Our second day in Qatar was the day I had been waiting for ever since receiving an email that there was a change in plans for that day. Instead of visiting the Doha Racing and Equestrian Club we would see Al Shaqab, a premier show and breeding location for Arabian horses in the Gulf States. I may have been the only person in the group who cared about the change, but I was delighted.
There actually was another participant on our trip who had been an Arabian horse breeder. He is now retired from horses altogether and leases his Arizona facility to one of the officers in the Arabian Horse Association. I was surprised that he did not choose to visit Al Shaqab, but he may have felt it involved too much walking. As it happened, the facility was so large, we ended up taking our buses from one area to another.
We started our tour in the riding arena, which was a spectacular facility. I had hoped there would be horses schooling there, but there weren't.
There were many facilities that I had only read about, such as this treadmill. This building was dedicated to various therapeutic stations. Horses can be trained to use this device to exercise at all gaits, up to a gallop. It can be used to evaluate gait irregularities, breathing difficulties and other medical problems.
Reconditioning a horse after injury is easier and more precise with a device such as this. Anyone who has hand-walked a recovering horse twice a day for 30 minutes in all kinds of weather for weeks on end would appreciate one of these.
It is also useful for general exercise and fitness work.
Last, but not least, is the horsy spa. Such spas can also be combined with treadmills, although this one was not. Anyone who had tried to convince a horse to stand in a bucket of cold water to treat a hoof or tendon injury would love one of these. Hey, it's only money!
After visiting the rehab area above, we went to another location to see some of the horses presented at liberty. Of the various horses that were exhibited, I preferred this lovely mare. Why? She reminds me of my Bella, of course!
I was disappointed that we didn't get to visit their endurance training area, but it might not have been as interesting to the non-horsy folks.
There were several mares presented at liberty, but the only stallion that they brought out included a handler. He is a handsome boy.
While preparing this writeup, I saw that there had been a large horse show held at the Doha Racing and Equestrian Club a few days after our visit. Al Shaqab cleaned up in the "beauty contests."
Another view of the arena as we are leaving.
Al Shaqab also has a riding school with an emphasis on eventing. The instructor is a German expat and he gave us a wonderful introduction. I was disappointed that they do not use any of the Arabian horses in this program. Instead they use imported European warmbloods and British ponies. To be sure, these will be more successful in this discipline.
After lunch we visited the Hamad bin Khalifa University in Education City for a discussion of higher education in the Gulf States. Education City is the home of Qatar branches of several prestigious universities including Georgetown, Cornell, and Northwestern. Their decision to locate here in a country that lacks freedom of expression, was and remains controversial. The Qatari government subsidizes the operation and has guaranteed freedom and autonomy to the institutions and their students. So they said.
I found it interesting that wherever it was mentioned, there is a higher percentage of women attending university than men.
I choose to view it as a hopeful sign that a repressive monarchy is pursuing liberal education. I wonder how the next generation will rise to the challenge of critical thinking, which has not been a characteristic of the region in the recent past.
The architecture of the university's main building, which includes its mosque, is quite striking. I was unable to find a place where I could get a picture of the entire place. The rising pillars on the left are the bases of the soaring minarets. The swelling white structure on the right is the body of the mosque.
In the informal discussions on the ship after our visit several folks expressed dismay that the space dedicated to the mosque is by far the largest portion of the facility. We were concerned that this indicated an unacknowledged priority.
Nowhere in our travels did we hear that Islamic scholars have subjected the religion or the text of the Qu'ran to the same kind of critical analysis that has been devoted to the Bible and other Christian traditions. The various booklets that people picked up on topics like "The Qu'ran and Science," distorted fact to fit revelation. There is a fundamentalist strain in Christianity that does the same thing -- but it has not been the mainstream -- up to now.
The interior of the mosque. It was a beautiful building. I took lots of pictures of the individual parts, but I will let this stand for the rest. I was unable to find a good picture of the facility online although there is an interior view at the Education City link.
On our way to our next stop we drove past the new downtown Doha. It has its own share of modernist skyscrapers although it doesn't begin to compete with Dubai.
One of our lecturers, Professor Tarek Swelim, had prepared us for this visit by giving an overview of the design process of the building.
Dr. Swelim said that hanging the chandelier properly in the main rotunda was one of the major challenges during construction. I like the juxtaposition of the circular chandelier and stairs with the geometric shape of the rotunda and the pattern on the floor.
The dome above the rotunda.
No one looking at the exterior of the building would expect to see such a dome because it is contained in a cubic exterior form. The "eyes" in the cube provide lighting for the dome in addition to the oculus at the top.
Click for samples of the collection.
After viewing the collection, we waited outside and watched the sunset. I took many pictures of various styles of minarets on our travels. Maybe I'll collect them into a page someday, but in the meantime this one will serve as a sample.
After we returned to the ship, it departed for our next stop: Bahrain.
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