Breaking the Bridle

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Horse racing has long been known to be a male-dominated field. However, Bahrain’s first female jockey and renowned equestrian, Manal Fakhrawi, has broken down barriers and inspired a new generation of female riders. She tells the Woman This Month team more.

Days out at the stables with family proved to be the start of Ms. Fakhrawi’s passion for horse riding. While most young children might shy away from the majestic animals, she grew a fondness for them.

“I was just three or four years old when I’d visit the stable. My two elder sisters used to ride as a hobby, and I’d be around the horses watching them. That’s really where it all started,” she reminisces. “I was too young to ride, so I’d feed them and first began riding a year or two later.”

Being part of a family that participated in sports and extracurricular activities, she naturally gravitated to an active lifestyle. “My siblings and I tried our hand at countless sports and activities, but the main thing that appealed to me about equestrianism is that you’re dealing with an animal … you’re dealing with a soul,” she says.

“Equestrianism teaches you empathy, compassion, patience, and how to read people’s emotions and those of animals too,” she adds.

Now a seasoned equestrian, she credits the experience as one that has shaped her life. “I’ve achieved so much. I believe that sports, in general, is very important but riding taught me how to live my life.

It’s about learning how to overcome obstacles and tackle challenges. It’s about learning to fail and carrying on because it is failure that teaches you about life and yourself,” she says passionately.

Being a member of Bahrain’s Royal Endurance Team since 2000, she has seen the presence of horse riding grow tremendously in the Kingdom. “The first race that Bahrain hosted was in 1999 and was the beginning of understanding the sport itself. It was something new to the Kingdom. Going from learning about the sport to being the world champions is something that I’m so proud of,” she says.

The Kingdom has supported the infrastructure of equestrianism in Bahrain to allow spectators to enjoy the sport, in addition to facilitating overseas participation of riders too. “There is a lot involved in this sport and it’s evolving with time. There’s so much that you have to constantly keep up with because it’s not only dealing with athletes and horses. Science, medicine, and how to improve both the athletes’ horses and the riders’ stamina are taken into consideration,” she says.

While the journey of being Bahrain’s first female jockey has been exciting, it is a journey that is not without challenges. Ms. Fakhrawi has had to forge a path in what is largely considered a male-dominated sport to this very day.

“The main challenge I had was me being a little girl challenging men and people not believing in what I was capable of. I was always proving that we were equal, especially in equestrianism. It’s one of the sports where men and women compete against each other as we don’t have separate categories,” she says.

Hoping to foster a safe, comfortable and encouraging environment for women to take up horse-riding, she opened Fakhrawi Stables. “I see a rise in female equestrians nowadays. My advice to women wanting to venture into the field is to just keep going. There’s always going to be someone telling you to stop through actions or words; just keep going!” she concludes.

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