The UAE is a country rich in its equestrian heritage, so it’s no surprise that more and more kids are taking up horseback riding lessons and even competing in jumping at a very young age.
With the backing and support of the UAE Equestrian and Racing Federation (UAEERF), kids as young as eight can compete in national competitions and move on to the internationals at the tender age of 12.
Time Out UAE Kids caught up with some of these rising stars to find out what it took to get to where they are today…
“I took on jumping when I was four.
At first, it was just for fun, but then I started competing when I was nine because my family was into it,” says 11-year-old Layth Ghurayeb.
“I really wanted to be like them, especially my Dad, who’s an amazing show jumper and represented Syria at the FEI Longines Jumping Nations Cup last month – it was a huge deal,” he added.
Ghurayeb’s parents taught him the true meaning of horsemanship and how important it was to have a strong connection with one’s own horse.
“First, I want to be a rider that goes to the Show Jumping World Cup. Then, I’m going to travel all around the world to win as many awards as possible and gain enough experience to compete in the Olympics,” says Ghurayeb, whose enthusiasm is echoed by Fatima Al Mulla, a junior show jumper of the same age.
“I first started show jumping when I was about six and half and it was because my brother (Eissa), parents and instructors were all really big motivational factors that I was able to do it,” she says.
For Al Mulla, show jumping is like a jigsaw puzzle – when you focus on one thing, you miss out on other very important details.
“You wouldn’t be able to become a good show jumper without having the basics down. The flatwork is so important and you have to always listen to your instructor. It’s also a sport that requires great patience with, not only your horse, but yourself as well,” Al Mulla adds.
For Al Mulla, holistic thinking is the way to go. “I want to be both a neurologist and a show jumper, but mostly a show jumper. I love the adrenaline rush I get when I jump – it’s such a fun sport where you learn so much,” she says.
For Eissa Al Mulla, Fatima’s older brother, starting at the age of nine didn’t mean he couldn’t learn just as much – and the excitement was his main motivator. “My Mum and Dad show up at every competition – you can always hear my mother cheering for us at every show,” he says.
“When I’m older, I want to further develop my investment business while still advancing my show jumping career. I’m going to go to the Olympics and win,” adds Al Mulla.
Eight-year-old Alya AlMheiri also wants to win, and she first realised it when she got her first pony, Quest. “Seeing all the other riders do it was all the motivation I needed. I just wanted to try it and, as soon as I did, I fell in love,” she says.
“My parents have supported me a lot – they got me both of my ponies. My Mum spent time grooming them, coming to all of my lessons and making sure everything was caught on tape. She’s really supportive and, of course, my Dad pays for all of this,” adds AlMheiri. That’s one cool dad...
For the young girl, the main lesson was that there are a lot of ups and downs in show jumping, just like it is in life.
“You can’t just wake up and say ‘I’m ready to ride’ and expect to be the best at it – it has to come from the heart. If you don’t want to be doing it, then you’re never going to get far. You have to try, and it takes a lot of focus and dedication to be able to excel,” she adds.
“One thing I want to be is an inspiration to other kids. I also want to do big competitions around the world like the Olympics and become known for what I do. I want people to be able to watch me compete and learn from that, so that they can teach others to do it as well,” says AlMheiri.
From being the riders that go on to the Show Jumping World Cup and winning awards all over the world to competing in the Olympics, there are many lessons to be learned from the sport’s youngest fans for other kids and adults, too.
For more on the UAEERF and show jumping events in the UAE, visit emiratesequestrian.com.