01 Jan 2013

Blaze Kids Committee Interview

The questions below have been prepared by the magazine’s Kids Committee, with publisher Jeff Tiessen. Blaze is targeted at youth aged 9 to 14 (predominantly girls).  

HRH Princess Haya is president of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI). 

She is a former Olympic athlete, having ridden for Jordan at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, is a member of the International Olympic Committee, a UN Messenger of Peace and works with many charities around the world.

HRH Princess Haya is married to HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai. Together they have a four-year-old daughter called Al Jalila and a baby boy called Zayed.

1. Was horseback riding something you were expected to do as a Princess, or were you just horse crazy like lots of other young girls?

I have been around horses all my life and I know that I always will be. When I was three years old my mother, HM the Late Queen Alia, died in a helicopter crash while she was visiting a hospital, and this was very difficult for me and my brother. On my sixth birthday, my father, HM the Late King Hussein, gave me a new-born foal whose mother Qubaila had died giving birth to her in his stables. I called her “Bint Al Reeh” (Daughter of the Wind) and I helped to bottle feed her.  

Qubaila had won the King’s Cup, which is a mixture of racing, tent pegging and Jumping, many times for the Royal Stables and the grooms were very proud of her. My dream was to become the first girl ever to ride in this competition and to have my father give me the King’s Cup. When I was 12 years old, my dream came true. It was an amazing day and I will cherish it forever.   

2. You must have been so proud to represent Jordan in the Olympics. Can you tell us what that was like for you and for your family and for your country?

Winning the King’s Cup gave me the passion to compete. At 13, I became the first female equestrian to represent Jordan. I went on to win Individual Bronze at the Pan-Arab Equestrian Games in 1992 and to this day I am the only woman ever to have won a Pan-Arab medal in the sport. At 26, I fulfilled my lifelong dream when I competed at the Sydney Olympic Games and carried the Jordanian flag at the opening ceremony. This was also a sad occasion because my father had passed away shortly before and was not able to witness my Olympic dream come true.

Two years later I competed for Jordan again in the World Equestrian Games in Spain, where I became the first Arab woman to qualify for and compete in an equestrian world championship. My father understood my ambition to compete at the top level. He cut down my public duties to allow me to compete and focus on becoming an Olympic athlete. This also allowed me to learn about the structure of sports and concentrate on my studies, and to make sure that at the end of my sporting career I could give something back.

3. You are so busy with all the great things that you do. Do you still have time to ride? Do you still compete?  Where do you ride and with whom?

I have competed since I was very young and, as an Olympian the competitive spirit stays with you forever. So as well as being a mother, a wife, performing my official duties and humanitarian work I always find the time to ride. Currently, I mostly ride with my family and this is fantastic because it is a passion we all share.  

4. How many horses do you have and who cares for them? What kind of horses do you have?

I have about 30 horses now - 15 of them are retired horses (my old friends) from when I competed full time. I bred them and now, also, their babies are part of the bunch. I am excited to say, I think, that three of those babies are real stars. I also have five ponies that we got because Al Jalila rides and I hope Zayed will also. In my family, lots of my nieces and nephews are starting to ride - they all get sent to ‘Aunti Haya’ for lessons!

Lastly, I have seven jumping horses of my own as I still have a personal dream to compete again. They compete with some of my colleagues on Team Harmony from time to time and I work them at home. The rest are lead rein horses that I use to ride alongside Al Jalila.

5. Do you remember what you learned from horses – what horses taught you – when you were a girl? Do you still use some of those lessons in your life today?

Horses teach us many things, including respect for others, trying our very best to overcome obstacles and of course working with each other to succeed. Everything good that has ever happened to me in my life has been because of horses, from rearing my orphaned foal, to being given the chance to compete by my Dad, to being elected President of the FEI and having the honour of being a member of the International Olympic Committee. Horses even led me to my husband.

6. Have you had favorite horses over your life... a really special one that was your best friend and that you had a really special relationship with? What was he or she like?

You already know about my foal Bint Al Reeh. My next big love was my mare Scandal, who was my father’s favourite Jumping horse. She captured the hearts of many people, including mine because she was an awesome competitor.   She began her life as a racehorse in Australia. But her potential for Jumping was spotted. After amazing performances, she helped to earn Australia a place at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. By the winter of 1996, I had seen and heard a lot about her and decided to go to Australia to take a closer look. Two months later, she arrived back in Europe with me.

In the spring of 2000, while we were competing together in Italy, Scandal suffered a serious colic and had to be transferred to Bologna University Veterinary Clinic, where thankfully she was saved. As a way of saying thank you, two scholarships a year are awarded in my father’s name to Bologna University Veterinary Students. Scandal returned to compete successfully before being put in foal in 2003 to champion racehorse "Adair".

She had a filly foal in the summer of 2004, who is known in the stables as "Millie." My two other best friends were Cera and Qui Pro Quo (KiKi). I competed on them both in my career and sadly, they both died peacefully last summer at the ages of 29 (Cera) and 32 (Qui Pro Quo). I miss them both very much.

7. What are some of your Royal duties as a Princess?

I have many official duties as a Princess, however, I am first and foremost a devoted wife and mother. Aside from my family, I have dedicated my life to reaching out and helping those who are less fortunate. I have travelled around the world in the hope of making a difference, even if just a small one, to those who are poor and in need. I continue to use my love and passion for sports, particularly horse sports, to bring peace and give life to hopes and dreams.

8. As President of the FEI, what are your hopes for the horse world for the future?

My vision is to develop equestrian sports around the world. By working closely with all the incredibly talented and dedicated people who give their all to our sport and who work inside the FEI’s 133 global National Federations I am certain this goal will be achieved.  

9. You do so much charitable work, is there one organization or cause that is closest to your heart? Do you do any work with children?

Being a mother of two is certainly a lot of work with children! But seriously, I also work with manyhealth, education, youth and sports organisations in Dubai and internationally. Working for the United Nations as a UN Messenger of Peace is an awe-inspiring task, and I am hugely grateful to be given the chance to do my part and be a voice for others who are less fortunate. I also work closely with the United Nations’ World Food Programme. This is the world’s largest organisation fighting hunger. I am extremely happy to be helping to raise awareness and funding to help women build a better future for their children.

10. As a Princess, expectations of you must have always been very high. Were there times that you could be just a regular little girl? Did horses help you with that?

My parents did great things for people living in Jordan and internationally, and they transferred this energy to me and my brother. I have never once felt that I wanted to be someone else. I am extremely thankful for my experiences so far and the changes I have been able to make in the sporting world as well as in my work helping those who are in great need.   My work has taken me to Haiti after the earthquake two years ago, and to Ethiopia, Malawi and Cambodia where I helped to manage food deliveries and make countries around the world understand the needs of people living through very difficult times. I have been involved in hospitals for children with heart problems in South Africa and closer to home in the United Arab Emirates. I am so excited about the future and I am looking forward to doing much more.

Growing up I always felt truly happy and at peace in the company of horses and they will always give me comfort if ever I need cheering up. I know I am not alone in feeling this way.

11. Is life for young girls in your country different than for girls growing up in the United States?

I have great memories of growing up in Jordan. Now I live in the United Arab Emirates with my family and life here for young people is very interesting. There are children here from many different nationalities and religions, so many different languages are spoken and there are lots of different places to eat and exciting activities.   There are clubs for every sport you can think of and of course riding is very popular, with amazing trips to the desert on horseback.

12. Who were your role models?

In the equestrian world, the list of wonderful role models who helped me while I was competing is very long. Amongst these incredible people are Olympic gold medallist Otto Becker, legendary Jumping champion, trainer and breeder Paul Schockemöhle, international champion and coach Katie Monahan-Prudent and trainers Alice Debany Clero and the late Paul Darragh. These people shared their knowledge with me and helped me become an Olympic athlete.

In my private life, my father became my greatest role model and still is. My husband is a role model to me now too, and he is one of the kindest most generous and exceptional men I know. My younger brother Prince Ali is also very close to me - the bond between us is incredibly strong. Kofi-Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Jaques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, are also both incredible men and I have massive respect for everything they are doing.

13. Congratulations on your new baby boy. Do you and your husband have dreams for your son and daughter to be accomplished equestrians like both of you?

Hopefully our love of horses runs in the blood! While it would be wonderful to see our children become really good riders and hopefully competing, enjoying horses is what it is all about and we look forward to seeing their relationship with horses grow.

14. You have achieved so much. Can you give us some advice on how to reach our dreams too?

Everyone has their own individual dreams and the key is to focus and have a positive mental attitude. It is surprising how much you can accomplish when you convince yourself that you will achieve your goals. That makes all the obstacles you meet on the way there seem much smaller, a bit like the fences in Jumping!