Spacecraft engineer’s stellar role at Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Equestrian Festival

Maria Hernek
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Updated 21 December 2019

Spacecraft engineer’s stellar role at Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Equestrian Festival

  • Chief steward applies her Dutch space agency experience to Saudi international horse-riding event

RIYADH: Organizing and managing international horse riding events on the scale of Diriyah Equestrian Festival (DEF) is no small feat.

With more than 150 competitors hailing from 17 countries and 170 horses in attendance, the logistics require precision, sharp attention to detail and unwavering passion for the sport.

Enter Maria Hernek, DEF 2019 chief steward, and her team of experts who oversee the daily running of the festival and are responsible for ensuring the welfare of riders and horses alike.

The code of conduct that Hernek follows, which ultimately defines her role, is threefold. “Help, prevent and intervene.” Simple terms, yet the impact she and her team’s actions have on an event’s success are undeniable.

“One of the responsibilities is to ensure it’s fair play for everyone, a level field of play. Everyone should have the same possibility to warm up in the same conditions. For instance, the footing needs to be the same from the first horse to the last. If there are 100 horses, it is quite difficult,” she said.

Speaking about how she navigates the policies around horses that have traveled from all around the world to participate in the competition, Hernek added: “We work with the quarantine team to support.  The quarantine procedure here is different to what it is in other nations, for example, it differs in America to here in Saudi Arabia. So, for that we need to know a bit about each country and what their rules are and adjust according to them.”

Getting under the skin of different cultures and understanding their ways of operating is another skill that helps Hernek in her role as chief steward, and one she is not unfamiliar with.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Enter Maria Hernek, DEF 2019 chief steward, and her team of experts who oversee the daily running of the festival and are responsible for ensuring the welfare of riders and horses alike.

• The code of conduct that Hernek follows, which ultimately defines her role, is threefold. ‘Help, prevent and intervene.’

Taking the top stewarding role at DEF has been a passion project for the Swede, rather than just a day job. Normally, however, Hernek can be found working out of her base at the Netherlands Space Office (the Dutch space agency) in her impressive role as a spacecraft engineer.

“One part of my normal work is to read rules of spacecraft engineering. At the space agency, I work with over 25 different nationalities, which helps me while I’m stewarding as I can catch up with different cultures quite quickly and understand different language intricacies. I’m quite accustomed to it,” she added.

No stranger to hard work, Hernek opts to forgo relaxing holidays, instead spending her annual leave traveling to competitions such as DEF to pursue her passion.

It is a hobby that has taken her to great heights over the course of her 25-year stewarding career, including stints at the Olympics in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016, and an upcoming placement at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“Every time you’re appointed (to steward) at the Olympics, it’s a huge honor,” Hernek said.

Despite horses and spaceships being two dramatically different vessels, Hernek has learned that many of the core skills are interchangeable — that is being a true “people person” skilled at reading situations and being a stickler for the rules.


Notice setting date for Saudi international flights ‘is bogus’

Updated 34 min 7 sec ago

Notice setting date for Saudi international flights ‘is bogus’

  • Aviation chiefs issue official denial after fake circular says passengers can fly to and from Kingdom from October

RIYADH: A fake circular suggesting Saudi Arabia will resume international flights in October has been condemned as “completely baseless and fabricated” by the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA).
Rumors that international flights will shortly return have been circulating on social media in recent weeks without any official statement from GACA.
On Tuesday, the authority denied announcing the resumption of international flights and said information being circulated was fabricated.
Saudi Arabia suspended international flights from March 15 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Since domestic flights restarted on May 31, rumors have been circulating regarding the return of international flights. On Monday, the bogus GACA circular was shared on various social media platforms suggesting flights into and out of Saudi Arabia would resume in October. It sparked a flurry of speculation.
The circular, titled “No flights till October 2020,” said: “An employee of the GACA has stated in a recent interview that all international flights to and from the Kingdom are to remain suspended till the month of October.” Quoting a GACA official, the circular said that the decision was subject to the number of coronavirus cases, which must “come down to three digits.”
GACA official spokesman Ibrahim bin Abdullah Alrwosa told Arab News the circular “is completely baseless and fabricated.”
He shared a tweet from the authority’s public relations department describing the circular as incorrect.
The civil aviation authority has previously said there is no specific date for the resumption of international flights, he added.
All international flights remain suspended until further notice.
However, exceptions have been made for humanitarian assistance and emergency cases, medical evacuation flights and repatriation of stranded citizens and expatriates wanting to return home.