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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Horse rider spurring on women to 'rein' supreme at new equestrian club in Abu Dhabi

Jameela Al Ameri is on a mission to open up access to the sport to women in the UAE

Jameela Al Ameri’s women-and-children-only horse stables in Al Wathba are opening up the sport to a whole new section of society. Antonie Robertson / The National
Jameela Al Ameri’s women-and-children-only horse stables in Al Wathba are opening up the sport to a whole new section of society. Antonie Robertson / The National

Globe-trotter Jameela Al Ameri has made horse riding her life's passion – and now she is on an equestrian quest to help other women get saddled up for success.

The enterprising Emirati horse rider has travelled the world to take part in races, and has won a clutch of awards and represented Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in his endurance races after a chance meeting at an event in Jordan in 2011.

She has vaulted over many hurdles to enter a world that is often dominated by men in the UAE, but she says many other women don't have that chance.

Rather than sit back and accept social conventions, however, she has become a trailblazer for equestrian equality by taking the reins of her own women's-only stable.

"Many women and young girls used to tell me how much they wanted to learn horse riding, but couldn't because most stables are mainly dominated by men," she explained.

"Only in rare cases some families approved of their daughters being coached by men or at common stables.

"I also used to feel shy and hesitant when my male coach would fix my posture or compliment me on my skills."

When she was granted a land in Al Wathba in Abu Dhabi in 2013, she took the opportunity to turn it into a horse haven for women and children.

Walking into Al Darban Equestrian Club, the female touch is evident. The walls are decorated with festive lights, as women head to the stables with their children following closely behind. The indoor arena has mirrors all over the walls for the riders to check out their posture. There is also an outdoor arena, a pool for the horses and a mini lounge.

"Soon we will be adding a cafe, mini gym, beauty centre and an outdoor cinema," explains Mrs Al Ameri.

The stables don't have the usual foul smell that hits one while walking in to such an establishment – the horses are spotless and their coats are shiny.

"I take care of the horses and train them personally, I use horse whispering."

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She pulls out a photo of herself sharing an apple mouth-to-mouth with a horse.

"They brought me this horse and it was very stubborn," she explained.

While the stable is still in its soft-launch phase, about 10 women train there regularly. Classes for women and children are held on weekdays, and families can book to train on weekends.

"Now we have 10 classes because I'm the only trainer – we will have more coaches soon."

Rawda Al Ameri walked in carrying her 1-year-old child on her shoulder.

"I started horse-riding when I was a child," explained the Emirati housewife.

"I used to participate in jumping competitions; the equestrian world gives a woman courage and charisma.

"I will start again today, and I chose this place because it is for women only so I can feel more free and wear whatever I like and take pictures, it is more comfortable this way.

"I know many women who were looking for a ladies-only place because our traditions don't allow them to go to mixed places," she added.

Sara Al Jahoori arrived with her 2-year-old twins following closely behind.

"I started horse riding eight years ago at Bu Theeb stables in Al Wathba, but I stopped two years ago because I gave birth through a Caesarean section. I will start again today," said the 30-year-old Emirati.

"My older children, eight and 10, started training here as well," she said as she put the twins on a pony each.

"My husband doesn't have time to take a family class with us, we come here only with friends and children, it is like break-time for us.

"I plan to develop into a professional level from now on," she added.

Arwa Al Ali, a horse rider since 2010, came across Al Darban while searching for a "suitable place that will provide more care" for her horse.

"I called the information centre and they told me there is a woman who started an equestrian club and stables in Al Wathba," explained the 29-year-old Emirati poet.

"They said there is a place managed by a woman, so I came to check it out and immediately I was able to see the difference.

"I saw the grass they use, the bathing equipment, the hygiene and health of the horses, and since then I've been here.

"And when I saw Jameela's trophies and that she used to compete for Sheikh Mohammed, I thought this is the type of person we need.

"Since that day I moved my horse here."

Ms Al Ali is also the head of the youth council at the National Qualification Authority, and plans to carry out joint activities between the two.

She helped organise an event for people with special needs at the club, where they had an open day of horse riding, food and fun activities.

"You will see the place transform into a hub soon, there will also be a play area for children."

"We are also planning an event for orphans, and we will hold a horse auction in the summer ahead of the racing season," she said.