A few weeks ago you organized for the fist time the Al Maktoum Memorial Challenge in Dubai the world’s richest ever show jumping event. Was it a success?
It was a resounding success due to the incredibly high visitor numbers and the evident quality of sport. Thanks to the wonderful organizing team at HorsePower, this was the first time the Middle Eastern region has been able to witness top show jumping combined with the Arab league show jumping combined with top entertainment through the various equestrian exhibitions.
The theme of the show was “Heroes of horse sport” and also introduced, for the very first time, the different FEI disciplines such as vaulting and carriage driving to the desert. People were fascinated and in that fascination I see a very promising future. Because of my husband HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and his family, horse racing and endurance sports are very popular in Dubai. How popular is show jumping in the Middle East? In the 80’s and 90’s show jumping was far more popular than either racing or endurance in the region. This was due to one single issue: the constraint of transporting horses across borders due to Piroplasmosis and EVA being rampant in the region. It was my husband HH Sheikh Mohammed and I who worked to eradicate this issue in order to further the future of horse sports in the region and we achieved this in 1992. As a result the barriers of entry for owners and riders in endurance and racing are limited, but we noticed that conversely, show jumping had become dormant in the past few years. However we realized that with only a little effort show jumping could once more return to its former levels (of interest) in the region. I also see a very bright future for dressage and eventing in the region, as they are two sports that have a large base of interest in the gulf. I feel that any positive move made to reawaken show jumping should be matched by an equal effort to provide a piggy back for the other two disciplines. I am in the process of creating a strategy for reining and vaulting for the Gulf.
What will you do to improve horse sport there?
I started in August of last year, when I received the mandate to work in this area, by taking three months to assess the current infra structure and demand of the industry and created a five year strategy that includes improving that infra structure and placing a national, regional and international strategy for improvement that is based on commercial return for the industry within the country. I am now at the third stage of the strategy where I have show cased top sport and regional sport side-by-side as a medium for educating regional federations as to their goals, through the Al Maktoum Memorial Challenge . The response has been incredibly positive and I am now sure that I have partners in my effort.
For many years you have participated as a show jumper on many important shows in Europe . In 2000 you completed in the Sydney Olympics and two years later in JEREZ you were the first Arab woman to qualify and compete in an equestrian world championships . Do you still compete at this high level?
No I do not as my responsibilities to the region do not allow me to but horses remain my main source of escape in terms of expression and one of my truest sources of joy. Nothing can be compared to the freedom and elation of the feeling of being in harmony with an animal of such majesty.
In Dubai your husband racing stable Godolphin has some of the finest racehorses in the world, do you ever have the chance to ride track work in the morning?
Yes, my husband and I keep some of the slower horses in a private desert stable where he is the trainer and I am the work rider. So far our strike rate of success for producing winners has been very good. But the best part is that we get to work together.
Recently announced that in April you will stand for the presidency of the International Equestrian Federation. What is the reason behind this candidacy?
The reason behind my candidacy for the presidency of the FEI is that I wish to give something back to the equestrian family, a family that has given me so much throughout my life. Furthermore, I wish to share my exposure to governance with them to improve the future of other riders who may have started out or who may be starting out as I once did.
Parallel to your equestrian career your focus is on humanitarian aid and charity work. You recently came to Zurich in your role as a board member and ambassador of the international humanitarian organization Right to Play.
How important do you judge the work of Right to Play?
Right to Play is an athlete driven humanitarian organization that gives children the right to exercise their innate right to physical activity in the most deprived situation. I have had the privilege of working with these organizations since 2001 and not only have I seen the good of their work in the field but also I have been honored to work with a fantastic team of world class athletes who do not only pledge to, but will, change the world, I am quite sure.
You have recently witnessed in Switzerland the announcement of Christina Liebherr as an athlete ambassador for the equestrian sport for Right to Play . I was honored to be a small part of this ceremony. Christina is not only a rising star in the world of equestrianism as much as I feel she will be a bright star for Switzerland in changing the lives of deprived children around the world. For this reason I feel Switzerland should be very proud of having her.