Eastern promise: Gulf States could be a significant outlet for Irish-bred horses
Irish-bred ponies are more used to wet and windswept grass fields than air-conditioned stables in a desert, but that is exactly where some 60 ponies bred and produced in Ireland are earning their keep.
Since last year, the prestigious Al Forsan Equestrian Centre in Abu Dhabi, with its fully floodlit international polo field and air conditioned indoor arena, has been home to 60 Irish ponies that are used in lessons for children in the oil-rich state.
The Al Forsan Equestrian Centre was officially opened in November 2011 when it hosted a leg of the Global Champions Tour in Showjumping and since then, Athlone dealer Jim Derwin and Anne Berry of Welwyn Stud in Folkestone, Britain, have supplied dozens of Irish ponies for the riding school.
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney embarked on a high profile trade mission to the Gulf States last October which highlighted the huge potential that exists in the region for Irish horses, ponies and equine expertise.
The region offers extraordinary opportunities for the Irish equestrian industry, ranging from the supply of top-flight competition horses to the ordinary everyday child's pony, according to Mark Bolger, who travelled with the minister as the representative for Horse Sport Ireland.
Minister Coveney and Mr Bolger met with Mr Atef Nagib, managing director, and Mr Ahmed Ali Al Hammadi, equestrian director at Al Forsan, during the trip.
"Al Forsan has been a huge supporter of Irish sport horses and ponies, mainly through the purchase of horses and ponies for its riding academy," explained Mr Bolger.
"According to Mr Al Hammadi the Irish horses and ponies have worked out very well and are well suited to the business.