By: Karim Mekawi
Last year this man jumped a shocking 151 places on the Rolex Rankings list making him the "One to Watch" which highlights the rider who has made the biggest jump within or into the Top 250 riders of the globe. This year he is doing the World Cup finals for the second time, and has laid out an even better plan for the season.
He seems like a pleasant man to talk to, but he's taking this whole show jumping thing very seriously indeed. With no free time on his hands and all the cards in for the game, Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani of Qatar is involved with horses most, if not all the time in a very committed way.
The now 30-year old has made some exceptional appearances at events like the World Games in Lexington, the World Cup finals in Den Bosch last year, the Dutch-run series of the Global Champions Tour and of course the Arab League.
We managed to catch 10 minutes of Al Thani's time on his way to ... Ride of course !
Gothenburg will be your second World Cup Final, what is your benchmark this time?
"I'm lucky to actually qualify for the second time in a row. Of course my goal is to always be in the top 10, and last time I finished in the top 25 which was not bad, so this time I'm looking forward to end up in a better position. We always have to try our best, and my goal is to win the World Cup for sure, but you know how difficult it is!"
Which horse will you be riding at the finals?
"My first horse will be California, and for the meantime I'm trying to qualify Cantaro."
Talk to us about those two horses.
"I bought California last April, she was ridden previously by Gerco Schroeder of course and I think she's a lot of quality with everything you need in a show jumping horse. She's in great shape, we did a few big Grand Prix of the Global Champions Tour and she coped very well. I actually qualified on her for the World Cup, we did the Arab league and she was placed in almost every Grand Prix - I'm really happy to have a horse like her."
"Cantaro is different though, he's a kind of horse that does better outdoors since he's big. He has all the scope in the world, big strider, so I prefer riding him in the big rings like Aachen!"
Some people question Cantaro's ability in terms of speed, what can you say to that?
"It's true actually, he's not a super fast horse but he's still competitive. He's a horse for the Grand Prix though, so he doesn't necessarily have to be very fast."
Tell us about your time with horse-dealer tycoon and trainer Jan Tops.
"I trained with him for a few months before, and I learned a lot from him and I actually just went back to training with him again around a month ago and we made a contract for the next 5 years ! I like his system, he's very professional, an extremely hard worker and very detailed in terms of technicalities."
How is the Qatari Equestrian Federation supporting the riders?
"Well in Qatar we have 3 different teams : The Police, The Qatari Federation team and the Armed Forces - the latter is whom I represent, so I guess I can only speak for them."
"The Armed Forces' support is much more than the years before, they're trying to bring in better horses and the new President is actually a really nice guy and very helpful."
"I own horses myself, but they also provide me with some good ones and that's really great."
Are you involved with any kind of work out of the horse world?
"Well, yes I have some businesses that I take care of with my father, but for now I'm only concentrating on my riding."
What show plan have you discussed with Jan Tops? And where are you based most of the time?
"I'm doing the World Cup in s'Hertogenbosch with California & Cantaro, then the 5-star in Doha end of March, then I'm jumping the Hermes in Paris, and after that the World Cup finals in Sweden. Then the Global Tour starts and I think I'll be doing all of those of course!"
Last summer I was in Bonn, Germany and now I'm at Stal Tops in Holland and I really like it...
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