Wednesday, 5 August 2020
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Aljassimya Challenge: The Trip of a Lifetime…

While the shows for 2020 may currently be on hold, we wanted to share this lovely experience from Jo Cooper, who competed and won Aljassimya Challenge in 2018 and was then one of the lucky winners who spent a week in Santa Ynez, California. Find out more about the Challenge, and how to enter at www.aljassimya-amateur-challenge.com/ and be ready to take part once the shows begin again.

By now a lot of you may have heard about Aljassimya classes for amateur handlers and riders that are being held around Europe – if you haven’t, then you are missing out! This scheme offers three levels of classes for in hand – novice, amateur and experienced. Depending on how much experience both you and your horse has depends on which level you enter; there is a form on their website that you can fill in to help clarify which level you are eligible for if you’re unsure. There are also two trail classes, one in-hand and one ridden, that offer a lot of fun. In the ridden, there are sections for classic pleasure, hunter pleasure, and western pleasure. Each country offers three shows with these classes on their schedule. Handlers and riders collect points and the Top Five from each of the in-hand and the Top Three from each of the ridden and trail sections win a trip to the Paris World Championships, which includes hotel, tickets and transport from the hotel to the show for themselves and a friend. As if that wasn’t enough, at the end of the Championships on the final day, there is a raffle for a trip for three ticket holders and a friend of their choice to visit Aljassimya Farm in Santa Ynez, California for a week! If you don’t believe it, I can guarantee that it is true as I was one of the lucky ones to win this fantastic prize and I returned in September from what I can only describe as a trip of a lifetime!


The entrance to Aljassimya Farm

Day one
In California and to start the day we visited the famous Om El Arab Stud! We were presented a selection of their horses before being shown around the rest of the farm, seeing the new foals through to youngsters, mares, and stallions. Being told about their breeding and signing the guest book where so many top names have been before was amazing. After a lovely lunch in Santa Ynez and a walk around their shops – including a tack shop that, of course, needed to be looked in – we headed up into the mountains for a drive round some spectacular views. We even saw Michael Jacksons Neverland Ranch; well, the entrance anyway.


Outside Michael Jackson’s Neverland. Credit Bart van Buggenhout

We finished the day at 100 Oaks Ranch, home of Aljassimya Farm, where we were shown a selection of their horses the last foal of the year, the yearlings and some stunning mares. The day ended with a pizza, watching the sunset over the mountains that make up the stunning background of the farm.


Watching the mountains from Aljassimya Farm

Day two
It was back to the farm for the walk around the whole ranch, a privilege reserved for special guests! We saw everything and watched their rider, Katie Garland, preparing a couple of young horses for an upcoming show. We also saw their trainer Robin Hopkinson working a young stallion on the ground over poles on longlines. During the visit, we saw all the horses around the farm – mares with foals at foot, young mares, retired mares, a couple of colts and my personal favourite, the yearling filly paddock! All the time Bart van Buggenhout, our gracious host and Manager of Aljassimya Farm, was sharing his knowledge of bloodlines. His knowledge is truly immense, and I feel that I have learnt so much!


Jo with her favourite yearling filly. Credit Michelle Kelly
It was then back up to the main farm, where we were presented with some more mares and their exciting future stallion. All the time, we were allowed to take as many photographs as we liked to remember this experience.

After lunch – they liked to feed us on this trip! – we were treated to a ride around the vineyards and then up into the mountains to a local ranch, who provided some very well behaved quarter horses who knew their job well.


Horse riding in the mountains

The day was over way too quickly and we had dinner at a popular Mexican restaurant, Dos Carlitos.

Day three
Today saw an early start to drive over to the coast to go whale watching! We saw lots of dolphins, some with babies, some sea lions, and, towards the end of our trip, we were treated to a couple of humpback whales playing.

We had free time in the afternoon to either spend on the beach or walking around before we met up for dinner as a group and went back to the hotel.

Day four
We moved onto our next hotel and on the way, we visited Hearst Castle in San Simeon, both a National Historic Landmark and a California Historical Landmark located on the Central Coast of California. We also stopped off to see some elephant seals.


Hearst Castle. Credit Alonso

From then, we drove through Big Sur, saw McWay Falls and then arrived at our hotel for the night.

Day five
We visited the aquarium in Monterey before having lunch at a Bubba Gump restaurant.

It was then a long road trip to Fish Camp, near Yosemite National Park. On the way, we played some car quiz games that kept us all amused.


The group at Yosemite Park

Day six
Today was spent in the breath-taking Yosemite National Park. We saw some beautiful waterfalls, some amazing cliffs including El Capitan, and we sat on the edge of cliff for lunch. The view just clears your mind and makes you stop and think about everything. We looked closely at the Sequoia trees that grow there, and it really was a fascinating and amazing day.


El Capitan. Credit Bart van Buggenhout

Day seven
Time to head back to the airport – we flew into Los Angeles but would fly home from San Francisco. As we had an evening flight, we went to see the Golden Gate Bridge; there was so much fog when we got there, but luckily it cleared one end for us to get a photo opportunity. We also saw the famed island of Alcatraz from the road.

All too quickly, the week was over, and it was time to go home.


The Golden Gate Bridge

What I can I say except a big thank you to everyone who made this trip the amazing dream it was. Michelle Kelly who collected us from the airport and drove us around the first few days. Then there is Alonso, one of the guys who works at the farm, who provided us with entertainment and also joined us on the second part of the journey to translate for the two Spanish winners who didn’t speak English. Then of course Bart, whose idea it was to bring this challenge to Europe, and who showed us around and drove us to so many places, but mostly for sharing his knowledge of bloodlines. But the biggest thanks must go to Sheikh Jassim bin Khalifa al Thani who, without his generous sponsorship, none of this would even be possible. You really have made my dreams come true by giving me this trip of a lifetime!

If you want to be in with a chance to win this amazing prize, which you now see is a real possibility, get out there and join in these classes – without support, they won’t be there. If you’re not sure what class you’re eligible for then just ask and don’t miss out – because you never know, next time it might be you!

Words and photography unless stated Jo Cooper

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