RIYADH: Saudi women riders are saddling up to make history when they compete side by side with their male counterparts for the first time as part of this month’s Diriyah Equestrian Festival.
Olympic and World Cup qualification points are up for grabs in the second edition of the festival being held on Dec. 14 and Dec. 19-21.
However, more significantly, women riders will compete in the same arena as their male counterparts for the first time in the Kingdom’s history.
Over the course of two weekends, the festival will feature 120 riders, 150 grooms, 50 officials, 300 companions and trainers, 250 club members and 150 crew.
The 13 Saudi women competitors are excited that the moment to shine on their home turf has finally arrived.
“This is a dream,” said 18-year-old Lama Al-Ajmi. “It’s an international four-star competition and I will finally get to represent my country on home soil.
“For me, this is the start. This is the start for all of us. I want to be on top and the Olympics are my dream,” she added.
Sultanah Abar, 32, a graphic designer and former UN employee, will compete alongside her brother Abdelkarim in the festival — their first time riding together in an international competition in their homeland.
“I started riding when I was four years old,” she said. “But until now I’ve only been able to compete abroad. Finally, we can compete at home and it makes me proud.”
Wafa Al-Hasoun, 24, also voiced her excitement at being able to join an international competition in her country. “We used to watch, now we participate and look to win. We’re very excited to finally be part of this,” she said.
The equestrian festival is part of the wider Diriyah Season, a month of major sports events such as Formula E, top-class men’s tennis and the recent world heavyweight title fight The Clash On The Dunes.
The Diriyah UNESCO World Heritage site will also stage performances from some of the globe’s biggest music artists, including Swedish House Mafia and Calvin Harris, as part of the festival.