Horse in dramatic stunt at Asian Games opening ceremony

December 4, 2006

A horse took centre stage at the Opening Ceremony of the 15th Asian Games Doha 2006. For the first time in the history of the Games, a horse was involved in the act of lighting the cauldron. Final torchbearer Sheik Mohammed Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani cantered up a steep ramp the height of the stadium to light the flame.

The horse, with specially adapted shoes for extra grip, slowed momentarily halfway up the ramp, but continued on to complete the stunt.

The horse may have been temporarily blinded by the hundreds of camera flashes from the spellbound spectators.

Al Thani is the coach of the Qatar Endurance team. The purebred brown Arabian horse he chose for his well documented ride was trained in Australia by Steven Jeffery, who starred as the Lone Rider at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

Three horses were trained in Australia for the stunt over an eight-month period, and the sheik chose his mount only a day before the opening ceremony.

Horses play a vital part in Arabian traditions and that was beautifully demonstrated in front of 50,000 spectators and millions of TV viewers all around the globe in a choreography called "Tribute to the Desert Horsemen". Riders in white traditional vestments and 64 horses did their freestyle.

Growing Asian interest in equestrian is evident in Doha where the number of participating teams in Dressage and Jumping has nearly doubled from previous events. With Endurance included for the first time, medals will now be decided in four disciplines. Eventing, the oldest discipline at the Asian Games, started in 1982, but Doha is the first Arabian location to host a cross country competition.