Thundering down the beach in all their jewel-coloured finery, the Royal Cavalry of the Sultanate of Oman take part in another spectacular sunrise practice session to prepare for their prestigious performance at the Queen's 90th Birthday this summer.
Copyright for all images: Khalil Al-Zadjali
The cavalry will be key players at the four-day extravaganza, which will take place in the private grounds of Windsor Castle in May. They will be selecting as many as 100 horses to fly 3600 miles from their home country to perform in front of the Queen, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and other senior royals – and, as HELLO! found out when we were invited to jet out and meet them in Muscat, preparations for the big event are already well underway.
Led by Brigadier-General Abdulrazak Alshahwarzi, the cavalry have been hard at work for four months already, keen to top the majestic display they put on during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee when they visited London in 2012.
HELLO! spent four days in the beautiful country in the Arabian Peninsula with whom the UK enjoy a warm and solid relationship, and witnessed a full rehearsal of the performance they'll be putting on for Her Majesty. And while the seven-minute show we saw wasn't quite running with the military precision that no doubt the Queen will witness come summer, it's clear the cavalry are taking their practise sessions very seriously indeed.
Major Douglas Robertson, the former senior director of music to both the Band of the Blues and Royals and the Band of the Scots Guards, who was at the helm of directing events including the Queen's Golden Jubilee Parade in 2002, is now based in Oman, and has brought his expertise to the cavalry's music section for over three years.
NINETY REASONS TO SALUTE HER MAJESTY
"This means the world to these girls," he explains, when we meet him at the Al Safinat stables just outside the capital. "The Queen's 90th birthday is the chance for them to show the world what they can do. We want to come away with people saying, 'Wow'. We're practising every day, morning and afternoon. We start in the stables at 6am, then we come back in the afternoon and do it again. We have to meet expectations."
One rather unusual instrument included in the cavalry band is the bagpipes. When His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, Sultan of Oman, studied at Sandhurt in 1963 he fell in love with the bagpipes and enjoyed them so much that he brought them back home to Oman – a detail that is sure to go down well with the Queen.
The cavalry – who are providing the largest horse contribution of any nation invited to perform - will be showing off their talents for ticket holders at the Royal Windsor Horse Show which runs from 11th to 15th of May daily, as the country celebrates Her Majesty's 90th with 1500 participants from around the world descending on Windsor to entertain the crowds. The celebrations are set to be spectacular, culminating on the night of Sunday 15 May in a two-hour TV broadcast hosted by Ant and Dec.
"It's a great honour. It’s a real privilege for us to be a part of this. It means a lot for us to show the Arabic equestrian tradition in Europe," said Brigadier-General Abdulrazak Alshahwarzi. "The musical ride is something we're proud to have here in Oman, and we do it in an Arabic tradition - it is special when you see the colours. We do it in civilian dress and it works very well."
HELLO! also chatted to some of the 28 women who make up the musical band. And flute and piccolo player Raida Soud Ali Albahri, 25, whose performance at the world-level Royal Horse and Camel Festival in 2011 was the pinnacle of her career so far, tells us: "The Queen is popular among Omanis. We had the honour of her visit to Oman a few years ago and I wish her a happy birthday and a long life. Everybody likes the British royal family!".
The cavalry, used to practicing in the scorching, desert heat of the Middle East, will be hoping that, weather-wise, there isn't a repeat of their 2012 trip, when it rained nonstop. Just to be sure they're prepared for all eventualities, they'll be flying to England two weeks ahead of their performances to make themselves – and the horses – familiar with the climate.