DUBAI: She was the first female athlete from Saudi Arabia to ride for the Kingdom in an Olympic-level event, now Dalma Malhas is dreaming of competing in her own country for the first time ever.
Back in 2010, Malhas rode to glory in the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010 in Singapore and won a bronze medal in the 14 to 18 age group, becoming only the third Saudi athlete at that point to win an Olympic medal.
But now Malhas is looking forward to another milestone in her sporting career riding in a mixed Saudi national equestrian team for the first ever time on home soil in the upcoming Diriyah Equestrian Festival.
“It’s a rendezvous I’ve been dreaming about for a very long time. I am really excited, this is going to be a first time for me competing on home soil. I’ve been all over the world, I did the World Championships, I’ve really been everywhere except Saudi Arabia," she said.
The festival at the Al Duhami Farm on the outskirts of historic Diriyah will be the first FEI sanctioned competition in Saudi Arabia, with points earned counting towards qualification for individual riders to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the World Cup.
Across six days, from Dec. 12-14 and 19-21, the event will welcome 150 riders, 150 grooms, 50 officials, 300 companions and trainers, 250 members of the club and 150 crew members. Some 1,500 visitors are expected to attend and will witness Saudi Arabia’s hospitality with the offering of 15 food trucks catering to international cuisines, 10 shops and game and federation exhibitors.
While it will be the first time the mixed Saudi team will compete in the Kingdom, it isn’t the first time they have ridden together competitively, that watershed moment came at the Nations Cup in October’s Morocco Royal Tour.
“Honestly it was wonderful, this is going along with everything that is happening in the country and Vision 2030. There is a big push to move forward," Malhas said.
The Diriyah Equestrian Festival is part of the Diriyah Season, an epic month of iconic sports events such as Formula E, top-class men’s tennis and a World Heavyweight Title fight – The Clash On The Dunes.
The stunning UNESCO World Heritage site Diriyah will also stage performances from some of the biggest music artists on the planet.
Olympic equestrian hero Ramzy Al-Duhami, who won team bronze in the London 2012 Games, and his wife and partner Sara Baban, are hosting the event at the bespoke riding arena they have created together. Both firmly believe that the DEF 2019 can provide a massive boost to female equestrianism in the country.
“The field is open now in Saudi Arabia for female equestrianism and women are being seen as partners to men and capable of supporting the progress of the equestrianism in international events, which will reflect on the development of the sport," Al-Duhami said.
“I am excited for the girls; I’ve been rooting for them all this time. There are so many girls at our school that want to ride and actually they are more motivated than the boys," Baban said.