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An Interview with ...

The new Manager of the AKAHF in Saudi Arabia


The Belgian
Ronny Vosch

Photo: Irina Filsinger

Q: Mr. Vosch, you have been appointed as the new manager of the famous
Al Khalediah Arabian Horse Festival (AKAHF) in the Kingdom of
Saudi Arabia. How did you come into this position, and when did you start?

Last winter and spring, I was invited by several Middle Eastern Organizing Committees to join their Festival as an official, either in Endurance or as the Ringmaster. During the International Show in Sharjah in March 2011,
I was asked if I had any interest for taking a challenge in the Middle East. I wasn’t aware that Melanie Mannix/McShane, the previous manager of the AKAHF, had recently resigned from that position. She however promised to find a decent replacement. Melanie asked me to send her all my credentials and CV, both private and equestrian, and apparently I matched the requirements perfectly.
One short visit to the Kingdom could convince my wife Marleen to go for it. From then on all steps were taken to agree on terms and so I travelled at the end of September 2011 to start in the new position.


The AKAHF is held at the private Al Khalediah Farm of
HRH Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud,
the generous host, patron and visioneer

Photo: Irina Filsinger
Photo: Irina Filsinger
Photo: Irina Filsinger 
Photo: Irina Filsinger


Q: Please tell us some more about your background with horses.

Since childhood I was interested in ponies and horses. Although living just 500 m from the major riding school in the surroundings I never was allowed by my parents to go there. Horses were a rich people’s hobby, according to them. They might have had a point there. My father, in his younger years, had worked in the fields with their heavy Belgian Draft horses and lateron he and his brother had to collect milk at the farms in the area to bring to the dairy (milkfactory). That was in the early Post War years. In my own youth, one of my uncles took me every Sunday to a breeding barn of French Trotters to feed and groom the horses. These horses were active in the sulky-driving at International level. And in those times, I was always happy to see the coal merchant arriving at our place with his huge Flemish Draft Horse. Those horses already made my head turn. But I kept on dreaming of once owning a horse myself. I’ve always had an interest in animals and breeding is in my genes. I gathered several titles as a young breeder of livestock and this line was drawn constantly till I started with Arabians, first Partbreds, than Anglo-Arabians and Purebreds. Homebred horses have claimed National titles in all of them.

My first contact with the Arabian horse goes back to 1986. From that day on I too was infected. Reading and learning a lot about the breeds history and character and conformation, visiting the major farms and shows in our neighborhood. Just like most people in that time.
Rather similar timing for endurance. In my opinion still the best sport for Arabian Horses and their crossbreeds if one takes the basic rules of welfare of the horse into account. I’ve always tried to explain the general public about endurance, have been writing articles about it, organized several seminars and competitions in the past and ended up as International Judge and Chief Steward. And as commonly known, ringmaster in Arabian Shows. News is that I’m on the Belgian National judges list. I’d succeeded a theoretical and practical judges course in the early 90’s and just recently asked to be added to the list as the show scene needs new blood.

Ronny Vosch, the so-named 'Lord of the Ring', can be a great team player
but also a good team leader, and has then things well under control.
Here he is pictured at the 2009 All Nations Cup Show in Aachen collecting
the judges
passing them information and instruction

Photo: Irina Filsinger

Ronny Vosch is a true horesman in all aspects of the Arab horse. He is also
a FEI judge and deeply involved in the endurance, riding and show scene.
In 2010, he was invited for the first time to Saudi Arabia and at the AKAHF, called
as member of the ground jury and officer of the AKAHF endurance ride,
as well as to be the responsible gate steward during the Al Khalediah show.

Photo: Irina Filsinger

Q: What was your business before you accepted to take over the
Al Khalediah festival?  Which experiences made you feel comfortable
for this new task

After High School, I started my professional career in the Mining Industry which was very common in the area where I was born. The fact that I was, in my study period, involved as a team leader in several Youth Educational Projects had drawn the attention of the company’s board. Living in a multi-cultural region and a broad knowledge of languages was a benefit to all parties. At the age of 21, I got promoted to the status of team chief and a couple of years later I was appointed Head-Supervisor of my division, managing a team of 120 people, various in age, culture and religion. Fact is that I had the quickest individual career ever in the Belgian Mining History. Not bad in a company with an average of 20.000 employees per year over a nearly 60 year period. An additional bonus was that besides my job, I’d continued studying, which would suit me well in the following years. Due to economic reasons, the Belgian government decided to reduce and afterwards end all mining activities. I accepted a function at the Nuclear Research Center, mainly involved with R&D projects for Nuclear Safety and Lifetime Extension for the Belgian Nuclear Power Stations and for the International Atomic Energy Agency. Some nice projects for most European countries, USA, Russia, Japan and for companies like Rolls Royce or Boeing.
To finish… since several years, I have my own independent company with a focus on gardening and maintenance. Just to enjoy and relax, as it is a perfect combination with the horses.
Meanwhile I have been active with horses all the time, either as rider, breeder, owner, official, president of the Flemish Endurance Committee etc. It has and never will be an easy task as too many people are only interested in power, control and their proper seats. Intimidations, manipulations, politics are unfortunately very common in the industry.

Ronny Vosch (top right) was the ringmaster at the Sharjah International Show 2011,
pictured with the acting judges during the competition of liberty class

Photo: Irina Filsinger

Q: What do you see as your biggest challenge while leading as the responsible such a major event and international festival?

Well, first of all I want to point out that the AKAHF has grown in a well prepared and excellent event due to everybody who has been engaged previous with the project. Much credit goes to Melanie Mannix/McShane and her administration, who did well in fitting all the teams together. Planning, preparations, timing, agreements, financial funds are crucial in such an event.
I like the “identity of the AKAHF” and feel strongly that this has to be kept. Tradition and progress go hand in hand, with respect for each other. So principally there is just a concept to maintain. Big and spectacular attractions with western influence are not at its place in this Festival. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against this, but there are other ways to do an upgrade in the Kingdom. Time will tell were the boundaries are. Traditional values are to be respected.
Anyway it is my pleasure to accept the challenge and I hope to be able to bring an additional progress in the riding-scene.
Main issue in the beginning is to learn to know everybody and to find out who we can rely on. It is my goal to maintain fairness and the high standard of the Event at all times. Straight forward is the motto. I hope they will give me some credit and that I have a fair chance.

The famous International Al Khalediah Show is an ECAHO A-rated show
and known worldwide to be one of the best

Photo: Irina Filsinger
Photo: Irina Filsinger

Flat Races for purebred Arabs and Saudi Desert breds are held during the AKAHF,
at His Royal Highness' private racetrack inside the Al Khalediah Farm

Photo: Irina Filsinger
Photo: Irina Filsinger

Another part of the Al Khalediah Festival is the Endurance Race, also held
inside HRH Prince Khaled's huge private Al Khalediah Farm

Photo: Irina Filsinger
Photo: Irina Filsinger

Q: The Al Khalediah Festival will be held for the 5th time in January 2012. What are your personal visions and plans for the festival?

The first year is a transition period, I will observe and have to find out what is possible and what is not. Which hurdles have to be taken? Which are the things to improve? What plans or priorities HRH Prince Khaled Bin Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has?
Of course I have several ideas of what to implement in the future but it would be unprofessional to release them already. I will prepare my ideas and bring them forward to those who decide what direction the Festival is going to in the coming years. The Show is one part, the flat-race and the endurance ride are others. More options have to be considered.
HRH Prince Khaled Bin Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud can, with the AKAHF-office as his executive team, be a pioneer in several equestrian activities.

HRH Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud,
proud owner of the famous Al Khalediah Farm and the Al Khalediah Stables,
and generous Patron of the AKAHF events, and a great supporter and lover
of beauty and the Arab horse, with two of his wonderful mares

Photo: Irina Filsinger

Involve the Saudi children and youth as they are the future. An International Allround Sports Event would be nice. I’d loved to organize that during the Festival. I’m convinced that promoting the ridden Arabian Horse will open a huge market, especially for non-breeding stock. As Arabian Horses are part of the country’s heritage, it would be good to educate and promote horsemanship and organize more competitions in all disciplines.

Ronny Vosch (left) meeting HRH Prince Faisal bin Khaled bin Sultan bin
Abdulaziz Al Saud, the oldest son of HRH Prince Khaled, in Saudi Arabia
in early October 2011.

Photo:Sanober Khan

After the 2012 Festival, I hope to develop several new ideas in cooperation with the Saudi Equestrian Federation, as to promote the Arabian Horse in all it's glory. This needs time and the sooner we can start, the better. Don’t worry about the other plans, all will be revealed in due time. Progress is on the way, for some people too quickly, for others too slowly.
The fifth Edition of the AKAHF will hopefully be easy with Melanie, who is the Official Festival’s Consultant, at my side. She will guide me through all obstacles. This advantage will provide me with enough time and opportunities to learn to know everybody in the business, either horse-people or event-people (catering, boarding, transportation, flight-operations, equestrian federation, maintenance, farm and palace management, etc…). All by itself a very important issue: Who is who? And of course: Who knows who!

The private showground inside HRH's private Al Khalediah Farm

Photo: Irina Filsinger

The private Al Khalediah racetrack

Photo: Irina Filsinger

After the Festival I would like to have a de-briefing with all parties to see where to improve or to make additional changes. The new plans can be revealed and have to be realized.
Next, major infrastructure works around the show-arena will start hopefully. Several permanent buildings will replace the temporary ones in the near future. And if HRH is happy, we can call it a success.


Q: To move from Belgium to Saudi Arabia is a big step in a personal life. Did you travel to the Middle East before - if so, in which purpose?
How did you settle your life and work in Riyadh until now?

Well, according to my parents, I have always been sure that I wouldn’t stay in Belgium. Several years ago I was planning to buy a property in France, but didn’t at the end. Now I regret the hesitation of that moment. So, when the opportunity occurred to go abroad, I just took it. The train comes by only a few times in a lifetime, sometimes only once… either you jump on it, or you don’t. I did, and time will tell if it’s the better choice.
Since 2008 I have been invited to the Middle East. In Qatar as a Chief Steward, in the KSA as a Endurance Judge or Ringmaster, in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah as a Ringmaster and I was a guest in Dubai.


Ronny Vosch receiving an award of honour from HH Sheikh Ammar Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi,
Crown Prince of Ajman, during the 2011 International Show in Sharjah

Photo: Irina Filsinger

Ronny Vosch (left) - repeatedly ringmaster of the prestigeous All Nations Cup show
in Aachen, as well as several other shows in Europe and the Middle East

Photo: Irina Filsinger

Q: What happened to your "Fox Arabian Farm" in Belgium,
and your own horses?

Instead of the 10 or 12 horses, we currently own only 6 Arabians. Two geldings, the full brothers Ffanatik (2006) and Ffasttrak (2008) are going very strong in showjumping. Numerous wins and good placing are on their accounts so far. The eldest is competing in Endurance as well.
Ffayietta and Ffarinosa II are in endurance training. In July Ffayietta finished 4th in her first 160 km ride in Euston Park, UK, being the only European Horse to succeed.
Our 17 years old Polish mare Femia is in foal to a black SE stallion. The mare is on lease, but remains at home, enjoying the pasture life.
And just before leaving to the KSA we’ve purchased a young mare from Denmark: Bint Shaila. She is the last daughter of Jaro d’Eversam, our stallion who passed away in 2007. Bint Shaila, a mating of two Danish National Champions, is slow maturing, but she has this feminine flair which is so rarely to find in exquisite mares. Time will tell, but she has a very sweet character and is wonderful to ride. Also started this season in endurance, qualifiers. Our daughters Sarina and Loana are taking care of the horses at home. They are a great help in maintaining our hobby.


Ronny Vosch (right) pictured with his homebred mare Ffayamara
competing successfully in ridden classes at the 2010 European Championships

Photo: Irina Filsinger

Q: What are the qualities of a horse you consider a must if a good one? Can you name us of your favorites coming close toward your ideal
and what you like to see!

First of all: an Arabian has to look like an Arabian, a Belgian Draft Horse like his own kind and a Friesian like a Friesian. Even from a far distance, clearly recognizable. This is an essential part of the breeds’ type. Secondly: a well balanced body is less apt to have injuries. In general a horse is not just to look at, meaning that is still has to be functional. Better to start with the better foundation (fundament and structure), within the breeds standards. I prefer square over rectangle bodies, although all has to be into proportions.
In the early days some horses that really left an impression on me were Carmargue, Ibn Estopa, El Perfecto, Padrons Psyche, the fullbrothers Warandes Plakat and Warandes Pascha, although very different in type, to name a few for the stallions section. Mares like Pilarka, Pipi, Om el Shiva Estopa, SHF Pearlie Mae, Tiffaha and Victoria II HPS (grand dam of Ffayietta) left their mark in my memories. In recent years nobody can ignore the sheer beauty and quality of Pianissima, Emandoria, Magora, Emmona or Dorar.

The exotic PIANISSIMA, of sheer beauty and quality

Photo: Irina Filsinger

, bred and owned by Michalow Stud, Poland,
is another example of outstanding quality and winning

Photo: Irina Filsinger

Owned by Al Khalediah Stables, MAGORA is another of Ronny's favorite mares,
impressing as a great mover and in her overall quality

Photo: Irina Filsinger

In 2011, Ronny discovered DORAR, who became another favorite mare for him.
She is bred in Qatar and owned by the Royal Cavalry Oman

Photo: Irina Filsinger

The most remarkable Arabian Horse is the Enzo son, Antarr. Unbelievable… this stallion has it all…attitude, size, movements, power, balance, bones, muscles, quality of legs & hooves, shoulder, withers, neck… just lacks the necessary 20’s in head to become a World Champion, in my opinion. I was astonished when he stood in front of me during the Abu Dhabi Nationals in 2010. Even breeders of Warmblood Horses will appreciate such quality. I hope we will see him in the ridden competitions next year.

The Enzo son
ANTARR, owned by Al Aryam Arabians in Abu Dhabi
is the today's most remarkable horse for Ronny Vosch
Photo: Irina Filsinger

Several Gazal al Shaqab offspring do very well. I would love to see such horses under saddle competing at top level.
I adore the great movers like Premier, Komplekt, Veteran and again Antarr. Earlier this year I was fortunately to see Monarch and his stable mates, several old Polish grand ladies, some of them are through “legends of the breed”. They gave me goosebumps.



Q: What are you missing most since moving out from Belgium? May you tell us about your personal wishes for the next few months, and what are you enjoying in your new “home country".

I like the “one more sunny day” in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and I do not miss the rain. Of course I miss the presence of our children, parents, friends and family, horses and dogs.
I’m fully aware that I’m not able to join all the endurance rides of our mares, but hope to be part of the team at least a few times. Ffayietta is a lust to one’s eyes to see in action. She is competing at CEI*** level and we hope to qualify her for the 2014 WEG in Normandie, France. Not sure yet for which country… maybe the Saudi Equestrian Federation is open for suggestions. They have seen the mare already in action.


Ronny Vosch riding his mare Ffayietta in the endurance race in Spa, Belgium

Photo: private

Q: Will we see you again at shows and events in Europe?

Well I hope so. I however can’t plan too much for the moment. I’ll just wait for invitations to come. The Monaco Arabian Horse Rendez-vous was unfortunately cancelled in 2011, so hopefully better next year. The Egyptian Event Europe in Lanaken was an annual tradition so far. The European Championship is in Belgium in 2012. The Czech Nationals and the Prague Intercup are scheduled as before.
And just recently I have been contacted by ECAHO-officials to help with a syllabus for Ringmasters and DC’s.


Ronny Vosch (second from right) - the ringmaster at
the 2010 European Championships in Moorsele/ Belgium

Photo: Irina Filsinger

Q: Is there anything you want to add, anything you want to let us know more about your person and work for the AKAHF ?

I just hope I will get a fair chance, that people will support me. Then all will turn out fine.
And additionally I hope we can bring everybody together for a round-table meeting to solve the problems that currently are discussed in the business. Yes, the progress within the Arabian horse scene makes it necessary to implement more rules and regulations. But let us talk about it first and not destroy our beloved horses. If nothing will change we will have to look at it as in Professional Soccer. Lots of rules, lots of enforced sanctions, lots of officials, etc… just to protect the welfare of the horse. A little more common sense can avoid that.

Photo: Irina Filsinger

Thank you, Mr. Vosch, for this input
to your work and life, your time and this interview!




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The Feature was brought up to you on 18. November 2011
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