From dreaming of ponies as a girl to becoming the first Qatari dressage rider in the sport’s history – and the first Arab female to compete in the dressage category at an international five-star Grand Prix competition – Wejdan Majed Al-Malki spent decades of devotion, persistence and sweat chasing her dream.

Wejdan Al MalkiRaised by a father who shared her passion for horses and believed in her potential from an early age, Al-Malki was determined to challenge herself and dream big.

At the time when horseback riding for women was thought of as taboo in society, Al-Malki said that her father looked at it differently. She said that he knew how riding horses would teach her a lot of things in life that nothing else would.

Handling such a majestic creature as a horse requires patience, self-control, compassion, and discipline – especially in dressage, where the rider and their horse become one. It is like ballet for horse riders.

Dressage is one of the three Olympic equestrian sports, alongside eventing and showjumping. It involves demonstrating a horse’s training by performing a set of prescribed movements in front of a panel of judges.

And then there is the fitness you acquire from horseback riding, shared Al-Malki. She said that no other sport could make you that fit. It is not until you ride three or four horses a day that you will have the fitness you need to be able to stay competitively active at the Grand Prix level.

Sea and horses

Having two passions in life – the sea and horses – Al-Malki studied marine biology and spent part of her career life working at Al Shaqab as the equestrian centre’s riding academy manager and then its deputy director. She also worked in the oil and gas industry, at Qatar Petroleum and Qatar Shell, respectively.

Aside from the social challenges I faced when I decided to pursue horseback riding, following an accident in 2004, I was advised by doctors I should stop riding and jumping due to a knee injury. I didn’t even consider that as an option. That’s when my journey with dressage started.

In 2018, Al-Malki decided to take a sabbatical. It was during this time when she crossed paths with two women at different stages of her journey to the Grand Prix dressage who believed in her and her passion as a rider and saw the potential of her raw talent.

They encouraged me to pursue a competitive career in this field and supported me until I successfully qualified for and competed in the recent five-star CHI Al SHAQAB Presented by Longines 2022 competition.

One of these women is Sam Francis, the previous owner of Al-Malki’s horse, Mango Jacaro. According to Al-Malki, Sam felt a unique connection between her and Jacaro from the very first ride, literally donating her stallion to her cause as she believed that they would make it to the Olympics.

The other is her current trainer, the Irish Equestrian Olympian Judy Reynolds, who has profound respect and compassion for elite sports horses, which is incredibly hard to find at this highly competitive dressage level.

Judy’s training went beyond the physical in terms of not just training me to ride my horses better, but also how to clear my mind and have better control of my nerves in the arena.

Horses at this level are super-sensitive and respond to the slightest tension from the rider’s body and breathing, so having control over your nerves definitely contributes towards a more successful performance, and achieving better results.

What these women have in common is their sincerity and faith in another fellow woman who believes the sky is the limit, shared Al-Malki. Sam and Judy provided her with a much-needed leg-up into the international GP dressage scene and helped achieve history for Qatar with her unprecedented entry to the prestigious five-star event.

More competitions

With the support of the Qatar Equestrian Federation and the Qatar Olympic Committee, Al-Malki now aims to compete in the 2022 ECCO FEI World Equestrian Games in August, which will be held in Denmark, the Asian Games which will be held in China in September and is also aiming for the 2024 Olympic Games in France.

Wejdan Al Malki 5

Looking back at her journey, Al-Malki celebrates this year’s International Women’s Day with pride.

If you are a woman and have a dream of becoming a swimmer or a tennis champion or even an astronaut, your dream is sound. You will face many challenges; you will be on your own most of the time; you may even have to sacrifice many relationships that are trying to hold you back.

But be more excited about your chances of success than your fear of failure.

All you need, says Al-Malki, is persistence and strength, and you may be lucky enough to find another Sam or Judy, who gave their heart and soul to make another woman reach for the stars and help her dream come true.

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