DUBAI // Donna Bellissima stands and swiftly spins in a perfect pirouette. But she is not a ballerina. She is a horse, directed to perform some of the toughest equestrian gymnastics by her expert rider, Farah al Khojai. Mrs al Khojai, 30, a mother of two, has been riding since she was five. She is the only Emirati rider in dressage who will compete at the Asia Games in November. In such competitions, horse and rider perform tests inside a white rectangle and are scored on a scale from one to 10, except for the pirouette, which is measured on a 20-point scale.
"When I'm inside the rectangle, the whole world is shut off from my mind. Dressage is not something that you can learn through a textbook; it's about the genuine harmony between horse and rider," Mrs al Khojai said. "When I turned 15, I gave [dressage] up, because there was not much prospect in the UAE then," she added. "Unless you did show jumping, which I don't do, you got nowhere." But six years ago, she said, she could not stay away from her passion any longer.
"I had just come back from studying at the School of Economics and Political Sciences in London, was married by that time and I took my son to ride a pony, and it all came back to me," she said. She said she received a lot of support from Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, the wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, when she returned to the sport, and last year qualified for the Asian Games.
Mrs al Khojai started and runs her own business, Arab Land Trading - The Middle East Pet Care Company. But "for the next months, my priority will be the Asian Games", she said. "I know I'll be making tremendous sacrifices with regards to my family and business, but I've been preparing for this for the past six years, and the time has come. "So far, I've been dividing my time really well: I wake up early in the morning and go to Bab al Shams resort to rehearse for an hour, then I go to the office. I usually leave by three because it is a family business, so my husband takes over, and then I go home to spend time with my children."
Next week she travels to Germany to begin extensive training. "When I'm in Germany, I train from 7am until 3pm," she said. She says her major concern ahead of the games is finding a sponsor. "Since I'm the only one representing the UAE, I need a lot of support," she said. "I need a crew, help in training and someone to cover the expenses of transferring my horse. If I find a sponsor, I'm sure that will help a lot in keeping up my level during the competition."