Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai didn't invent the sport of endurance. But some might say he reinvented it.
Along with two of his sons, Sheikh Mohammed will compete Sunday in the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park.
He is "one of the leaders who have picked up the sport and taken it much, much, much more forward — where we are standing today," said Mohammed Al Adhab, deputy general manager of the Dubai Equestrian Club. "This area is his idea, to plan it this way," he said, looking out over the Horse Park's vet check area, where horses will be checked for fitness after each of six loops of the race. Emmett Ross, discipline manager for endurance at these Games, says of the sheikh: "He's made the sport of endurance."
The sheikh from the United Arab Emirates is well known in Central Kentucky for his Thoroughbred breeding and racing operations. His wife, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, is president of the Fédération Équestre Internationale.
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Sheikh Mohammed took an interest in endurance about 15 years ago.
According to Ross, the sheikh put up the money to transport horses, and provide hotels and cars for athletes of the first "true" World Championships in 1998.
"From there, an industry was born," Ross said.
Jeremy Reynolds, who was among 10 finalists for the U.S. endurance team until his horse, Sir Smith, had a training setback, said of Sheikh Mohammed: "He's really creating an industry for us so that people like myself can make this a profession by selling horses and training horses for others."
In addition to competing, Reynolds is a farrier, a coach and operates a 20-acre training facility near San Jose, Calif. His wife, Heather, will ride in the endurance competition.
"It used to just be a back-yard sport," Reynolds said of endurance. "Since the UAE and, in particular, Sheikh Mohammed, got involved, it's blossomed into this huge international deal."
Reynolds said he was impressed by Sheikh Mohammed's enthusiasm and willingness to help others. Six or seven years ago in the UAE, Heather was racing and Jeremy was in a support car. Sheikh Mohammed was in another car, keeping an eye on a nephew in the race.
When Reynolds' car broke down, Sheikh Mohammed "gave us one of his extra drivers and a car," Jeremy Reynolds said. "And proceeds to help unload cases of water out of the back of our truck into his. ... He gets in there and gets his hands dirty and enjoys the sport just as much as all of us. ... He gets in there. It's really enjoyable."