posted on 30/05/2012: 1004 views
Ayesha Al Khoori talks to some female Arab horse riders whose families were not always supportive of the sport.
When she was a young girl, Salama Al Saadi's family members would laugh about her dream to become a horse rider.
She still sought her mother's permission, to no avail.
"I want to try, but they implanted fear in me," says Al Saadi, now 22.
While the men in her family are allowed to horse ride, Al Saadi's mother believes it is unsafe for girls in particular to engage in the sport.
"It's a culture thing," Al Saadi says.
"But the idea is still on my mind," she says, believing horse riding will instil in her responsibility and confidence. "I'm not losing hope. I still wish to be a horse rider one day."
For 21-year-old Dana Al Mutawa, it wasn't difficult to convince her parents to allow her to ride horses. "Although my father didn't accept the idea for a while, he changed when he observed how devoted I was," she says.
Al Mutawa, who has been riding for seven years now, adds that having male cousins and family friends engaged in the sport has "made it easier for my family to go through the process of acceptance".
While her parents like seeing her active, her father draws the line when it comes to competitive horse-riding events, finding competitions to be time-consuming.
Al Mutawa says this restriction once caused her to briefly withdraw from her family. "But I know they will reconsider it," she says. "And someday they won't pressure me to stop."
Her friends were initially against her hobby, but later on became supportive.
"Through the years many local girls have entered the equine field, so it became a normal phenomenon in our society," she says.
Referring to religious traditions, Al Mutawa argues that whenever she rides horses, she keeps herself fully covered.
"And my brothers accompany me at my racing events," she adds.
Al Mutawa believes perseverance is key to pursuing one's passion: "I've held on to my passion, and kept everything else in my life balanced."
Fatma Al Marri, 18, has been riding for close to a decade. She says everyone in her family was initially against it, until her mother convinced them to be open-minded about it.
"My mother said: 'OK, why not?' and gave me a chance," she says.
Al Marri believes many reject the idea of a female horse rider because they think it's a male-dominated sport that requires power.
This didn't stop Al Marri from emerging as the champion at last year's National Day Cup endurance race, as well as winning eight trophies at various prior events. "Horse riding makes you fit, relieves stress and teaches you to be powerful," she says.
Obaid Ghidyar Al Dhaheri, a 35-year-old equestrian trainer at the Baniyas Equestrian Centre, has been working with both male and female riders for more than two decades. He says horse riding benefits both genders by teaching them not only how to be fit, but also to be proud of themselves and what they can achieve.
"Those who benefit physically and mentally don't want to stop," Al Dhaheri says. He believes there is nothing culturally or religiously wrong with horse riding. "Those who don't know what horse riding is will say anything," he says. "We can't blame them for not knowing."
Al Dhaheri suggests that parents worried about their daughters engaging in the activity should know that private all-female training centres exist. "Horse riding doesn't harm the girl in any way," he says. "On the contrary, it helps her in many ways." – The National
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