x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Riding success on tight budget

Farah al Khajai is proud of her achievement in the dressage event at the Asian Games but says more sponsorship is needed for the UAE to attain greater success in sport.

Farah al Khajai's horse, Whisper, cost nearly Dh500,000, a relatively modest sum in the world of competitive dressage.
Farah al Khajai's horse, Whisper, cost nearly Dh500,000, a relatively modest sum in the world of competitive dressage.

Participating in the Asian Games has always been a dream and ambition, and last month, I had the chance to compete in the dressage event. It was touch and go on many occasions because of the money, but I made it in the end.

I have aways been mad about horses. When I was riding as a child in the Emirates, I did jumping or endurance. But it didn't really take me anywhere. I just enjoyed it. So when I came back from the UK in 2001, after graduating from the London School of Economics, I decided to do more than one lesson a week and really stepped up my instruction. I realised this is something I really love and I spoke to people at the equestrian centre in Dubai. Dressage was an emerging discipline and there were others starting to do it.

Before long, in 2008 and 2009, I was sent to Germany for two summers and experienced some intensive training there.

I bought my horse - named Whisper - in Germany and I have fortunately trained at a well-known yard called Hof Kasselmann, which is quite a famous stable in Europe. They have been absolutely wonderful with me and have put me on the right direction.

My horse cost about €100,000 (Dh483,000), and that's not considered especially expensive. The Malaysian who came third in the Asian Games was riding a horse worth €1.5 million. I got to the finals, or the top 15 competitors. This was my maiden international competition and many of the other riders had been to the Olympics and were quite seasoned. Dressage is something that needs time and consistency and training.

Riding is a very expensive sport. There is buying the horse, but that's only the beginning, with veterinarian costs, food, the stables, trainers, and the list goes on and on. I believe sport needs to have sponsorship and much of that has come from my family. Otherwise I would not have been able to do it. There is no doubt about that.

Dubai Duty Free was also very helpful, and they became my sponsor this year. I reached out to them and they provided me with financial assistance. But I'm not the only one in need and there is a lot of local talent out there in this country. If more companies spend on sponsorship for these individual sports, it will really help the sporting scene at large here.

I really hope there will be more of that in the future. There are so many people who are talented but can't pursue their dream because of a lack of funding. Depending on sponsorship, my next goal is the 2012 London Olympics.

Whether I can conjure the money, I'm not sure. I will keep riding and training and hope for the best. I just came back from the Asian Games and now I'm calculating my expenditures for 2011.

After that I'll head out and start knocking on doors.

I'm hoping it'll be easier now that I've been to the Games. It's now clear that I'm not all talk and I'm a hard worker.

I'm also lucky that we run a family business, otherwise I couldn't take time off to do riding. I don't really need to be in the office and my husband handles the day-to-day operations. He has been wonderful and taken on a lot more over the period I've been away.

I'm originally from the UAE and started a business with my husband called Arab Land Trading. We import and export accessories and pet food for the local market. We also started Pets Delight, the retail store, and our first branch opened at Arabian Ranches in the community centre and we will open in Raha Gardens, in Abu Dhabi, sometime in February.

We started in 2001 after I graduated from university. The whole idea kicked off because we have two dogs and wanted to get quality food for them.

In fact, one of the dogs had a severe medical ailment and needed special food, but nobody provided it in the UAE. We realised there was a niche there, a gap in the market, so we decided to just bring the food in ourselves. It all just grew from there.

I can think of great business ideas but would not know how to make them work. This can be a tremendous disadvantage, and if I were to give a piece of advice, I'd say you have to know the business you are getting in to. It's always best to do something you know or are eager to learn about.

I'm quite conservative with my money but I always believe in gut feeling. Sometimes we make business decisions purely on having a good feeling. Instinct helps a lot, and that's why you need to know your industry.

My riding is also all about gut feeling. At the moment, dressage is for my own enjoyment. I do it because I love it. I wish I could make money off it, but that's not realistic. It's just a true passion and I hope to contribute to the building up of dressage in the UAE.

I'd like to encourage others to do it. I don't think I'll ever make money from it, but if I can at least cover some of the costs, it will make it a lot easier. Either way, it's a great pride to represent my country.

* As told to Jeffrey Todd