‘Fairytale’ win for Khadijah Mellah, first British jockey to race in hijab

18-year-old Khadijah Mellah from a deprived south London neighborhood had never sat on a racehorse until April and Goodwood described her victory in the Magnolia Cup, a charity race for non-professional jockeys, as a “fairytale win.” (Photo: Great British Racing)
Updated 01 August 2019

‘Fairytale’ win for Khadijah Mellah, first British jockey to race in hijab

  • The 18-year-old from a deprived south London neighborhood had never sat on a racing horse until April
  • Mellah first began riding seven years ago

LONDON: A teenager made history as the first British jockey to compete in a major event wearing a hijab on Thursday, winning a “fairytale” victory at the famed Goodwood racecourse.
Khadijah Mellah beamed and shared a high-five with another rider after crossing the finish line on her horse Haverland ahead of 11 other female jockeys.
The 18-year-old from a deprived south London neighborhood had never sat on a racehorse until April and Goodwood described her victory in the Magnolia Cup, a charity race for non-professional jockeys, as a “fairytale win.”
Mellah, who competed against riders including former Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton and presenter Vogue Williams, said before the race it was “crazy” that she was the first female Muslim jockey in British competitive horse racing.
“There’s quite a stereotype around Muslim girls and them ‘not being able to follow their sporting passions and dreams’,” she said in a statement.
“I am thrilled that I am part of a shift in social understanding of what women can achieve and what they can be good at.”
Many Muslim women cover their heads in public with the hijab, or headscarf, as a sign of modesty, although some critics see it as a sign of female oppression.
Mellah first began riding seven years ago after discovering Ebony Horse, a community riding center.
Her preparation to take part in the high-profile race was captured in a documentary called “Riding a Dream” which will be broadcast in autumn.
Mellah, who will start university in autumn, said she had “a couple of sleepless nights” as she prepared for the race.
“I want to be a role model to anyone who wants to do something that they wouldn’t initially believe was in their comfort zone and allow people to follow their aspirations,” she said.
The British-based Muslim Women’s Sports Foundation said it was “worrying” it had taken so long to reach the milestone, but Mellah was blazing a trail for others.
“It’s important because we need role models for young Muslim girls especially,” spokeswoman Anira Khokhar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “When you have people like Khadijah ... it’s phenomenal — it shows there are no barriers and there are no boundaries.”


Saudi showjumpers ride for places in Tokyo Olympics team

Updated 16 December 2019

Saudi showjumpers ride for places in Tokyo Olympics team

  • International exposure key to Saudi riders’ success: Equestrian federation chief
  •  Visitors enjoyed a fun and exciting atmosphere as riders gave their best performances on the field

RIYADH: Saudi showjumpers at this month’s Diriyah Equestrian Festival aren’t just riding to win — they are battling for places at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, the country’s equestrian chief said on Sunday.

“Saudi riders’ participation in international championships is very important,” said Prince Abdullah bin Fahd bin Abdullah, president of the Saudi Equestrian Federation.

“Coming in contact with international riders will provide them with what they need to achieve their ambitions, which we all know are very big. That is why Saudi riders always have remarkable presence on the international level — hard competitors to beat, like the young rider Waleed Al-Ghamdi, who came second in the first stage of the competition.

“We are waiting for the results of this championship to draft the program for the Tokyo Olympics. We have a good chance at winning but, in this sport one can never be sure until the end of the stage. We will always be sure of the self-confidence our riders have, which will be felt as they represent the Kingdom in any competition,” he added.

Prince Abdullah expressed his happiness at the start of the first stage of the International Show Jumping Championship as part of the Diriyah Equestrian Festival

“The success is due to God, the support the sport has from the wise leadership of Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the General Sports Authority (GSA)," he said

The festival — which concludes next weekend, Dec. 19-21 — is taking place at Al-Duhami Farm, the equestrian arena built by Saudi Olympic legend Ramzy Al-Duhami and his wife Sara Baban.

In addition to showjumping, the attractions include art and photography exhibitions, cultural activities and a range of cafes and restaurants.

Visitors enjoyed a fun and exciting atmosphere as riders gave their best performances on the field, showcasing their skills and talents.

Diriyah has always been a symbol of authenticity and culture, while entertainment came with its international sports activities characterized by their sophistication, strength and diversity.

Mohammed Al-Mudayfar, owner of the artistic incubator “Resin Art” taking part in the activities, said: “The exhibition aims at highlighting the Kingdom’s identity in line with the festival’s. By participating, I seek to revive the Kingdom’s culture and introduce it to the visitors.

'Resin Art' exhibition is part of the activities lined up during the two-week Diriyah Equestrian Festival. (Photo/Supplied)

“The exhibition includes 60 Saudi artworks. They received huge support so they can showcase them in a suitable manner, in line with this year’s fun and exciting activities,” he added, noting: “Featured handicrafts, paintings and sculptures are all up for sale.  

“We provide the necessary space and materials for any artist that wishes to showcase his work. Supporting young Saudis and talented ones in particular is a national duty that society should sense its importance especially when it is related to our heritage and traditions.”

The activities area had a part dedicated to kids that has educational and entertainment activities such as painting horse heads made of cork.

Another exhibition called “Objectives” managed by 24-year-old Lama Al-Thubaiti offered visitors a variety of jewelry and accessories that could be modified according to their requests. Al-Thubaiti works as a doctor for people with hearing disabilities and has been working to develop her brand for five years now.

“We are very happy with the visitors’ reaction and our presence here is remarkable as we get ready to open our headquarters soon,” she said.  

The activities area also featured a wide range of restaurants, Saudi and international cafes, a photography corner and cultural facilities such as Arabian and historic horse exhibition, engraving, henna and local artists.

Diriyah Equestrian Festival is taking place for the second year in a row to bring the international event to the Kingdom, reflect the traditional values of equestrianism according to European standards. The event will run for two weeks, providing participants with the chance to qualify to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the World Championship.