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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 March 2019

Emirati horse whisperer focused on Special Olympics victory

Mohammed Al Tajer sheds light on the darkness and seclusion felt by children with disabilities, and his Olympics success

UAE medal winner Mohammed Al Tajer during his training at the Al Ahli Horse Riding Club in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National 
UAE medal winner Mohammed Al Tajer during his training at the Al Ahli Horse Riding Club in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National 

When Emirati rider Mohammed Al Tajer whispers to a horse before an equestrian event he establishes a deep connection that he believes has guided him to win an impressive 36 Special Olympics medals for the UAE.

He rests his head on the horse, pats it down and talks softly to it during training sessions at Dubai’s Al Ahli Riding Club.

“If you are connected with the horse, it will know you,” he said.

“It will get used to you and listen to you. Sometimes you let the horse go, but it will still follow you.”

The 22-year-old won his first equestrian medal at the age of 10 at the 2007 Games in Shanghai. His control and communication with horses is even more extraordinary since Mr Al Tajer does not train with one specific horse, but will be assigned any horse available when the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi begin later this week.

His skill is evident as he steers a horse into position, then gently encourages it to break into a trot as it follows in circles and loops for the dressage section.

A medal contender in both dressage and showjumping, Mr Al Tajer moves into the correct posture and leans in as he manoeuvres the horse to jump over a set of poles and fences.

Apart from the correct techniques, the riders will be judged on their understanding of the horse and ability to keep it calm.

Mr Al Tajer said he makes sure a horse listens to him with a double dose of affection and food.

“I kiss the horse and I touch them to make them calm. They love carrots and apples. I love horses — they are sweet, they are beautiful, they are friendly,” he said.

He is among about 300 athletes with learning and cognitive disabilities who will represent the UAE at the Games. Organisers hope that witnessing 7,500 people of determination from around the world compete in 24 officially-sanctioned sports will challenge the regional stigmas.

Mr Al Tajer said people may think that because some children with intellectual disabilities cannot express themselves, they should be left at home, but seclusion only elevates their sense of gloom.

“It feels like they are lonely inside … like darkness. They feel they are without friends,” he said.

“I want to tell families to let their children experience many things — horse riding, swimming, bowling. They can go to any club in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Al Ain.”

Mohammed Al Tajer won equestrian medals for the UAE in various Special Olympics around the world. Pawan Singh / The National
Mohammed Al Tajer won equestrian medals for the UAE in various Special Olympics around the world. Pawan Singh / The National

Mr Al Tajer follows in the footsteps of elder brother Abdulla Al Tajer, a Special Olympics swimmer.

His new goal is endurance riding, he dreams of racing alongside Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai. Both are accomplished equestrian athletes who have won several international endurance racing championships.

In endurance racing, a horse and rider cover a distance of between 80 to 160 kilometres over the course of a single day.

Mr Al Tajer coach Mohammed Mubarak is on the lookout for an open area for him to practice once the Special Olympics is over.

“Mohammed looks at Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Hamdan and says he wants to ride 100 and 160 kilometres,” Mr Mubarak said.

“We need an open route for him and four people with disabilities who are also ready for endurance riding. If somebody gives me an open route, I will start.”

Mr Al Tajer smiles when asked about his new ambition of endurance racing.

“I get excited to see Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Hamdan. I want also to do long distance. How long? It does not matter.”

Updated: March 11, 2019 06:24 PM

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