While most of her classmates were probably playing at the age of 6, Manal Fakhrawi was in training already seeing herself at the race course. The International Equestrian, the first and only female Bahraini jockey with lofty ambitions is making history. Her achievements in the Equestrian world were ground-breaking moments not only for racing in the kingdom, but women in sport. She is a role model for a reason and has a story to share that should never be untold.
ROAD TO THE ROYAL ENDURANCE TEAM
Riding race horses is a demanding sport. Jockeys are some of the strongest athletes on earth. One must be physically fit and strong. It requires strong legs, strong core, strong upper body, and great balance. From a young age, Manal was always around horses. She would accompany her elder sisters who took riding lessons and would spend the whole day at the stables. She then took up her first lesson at the age of six. After spending several summers hopping from one stable to another, she finally settled with the one who found determination and potential in her. She was riding on a daily basis after school and it led to one thing- training for competitions! The first competition was when she was at the age of 10. She started as a show jumper and it wasn’t until 1999 that the federation introduced endurance racing. That was when she has built an interest and decided to explore endurance. “I still remember how frightening my first race was, a 13 year old girl competing against hundreds of men. Being the youngest rider in Bahrain, I got a lot of attention and wasn’t long till I was asked to join the Royal Endurance Team of Bahrain,” Manal recalled.
EQUESTRIANISM AS A SPORT
There is no question that it’s one of the oldest sports and fulfils every definition of sport. Some people think it is so easy. What the average non-rider doesn’t see are the hours of practice, the sore muscles, bruising, and chafing not to mention the mental challenge that riders undergo to make it all look easy. Every time Manal gets in the saddle, she forgets about the rest of the world. “All that matters is the horse and me” she reflected. What makes this sport special is the connection people build with the horse. They share feelings and try to understand each other without the use of words. Despite the size, horses are very sensitive and delicate, not forgetting how smart they are. Each horse has its own personality, attitude and can be just as moody as humans hence making it exciting and challenging to work together and become a team.
The secret to overcome all the negativities is to simply keep your head in the game and focus on your goal.
FIRST FEMALE BAHRAINI JOCKEY
The first female Bahraini jockey is one title Manal will forever cherish. “It wasn’t easy to claim but not impossible. It was tough waking up at 3a.m. every day, being in the saddle by 4a.m., riding the horses allocated to me and then heading to my nine to six job,” she explained. What is not known to most is that a lot of people doubted her abilities and strength to race. To some, it was hard to accept that a woman can do just as much as man. “The secret to overcome all the negativities is to simply keep your head in the game and focus on your goal,” she added.
The greatest moment she had was when she represented the Kingdom in the World Endurance Championship 2005 in Italy. She was the first Bahraini female rider to have reached the World Cup. “I have been lucky and grateful to clinch the Women Endurance Championship in the Kingdom three times in a row,” she recalled. For Manal, the greatest experience out of it all was not always the success and achievements but the setbacks and falls (literally) which made her who she is right now. “As the famous Arabic saying goes – Who that does not fall, does not learn,” she added.
ADVICE TO ASPIRING EQUESTRIANS
It is important for women who want to tackle horse riding as a hobby, sport, or even profession to be well educated about the field. As a start, you should research about the stables in the area, pay them a visit, get acquainted with the trainer and choose your beginning wisely. Never let anyone take advantage of your weaknesses or even intimidate you. You should be able to be comfortable and enjoy the sport, overcome fear and not let fear overcome you.
As the famous Arabic saying goes – Who that does not fall, does not learn
To become a successful endurance rider, one must maintain stamina and constantly stay fit. With Manal’s long hours at work, she manages to have the strenuous training during weekends. On weekdays, she would swim, bike and run to compensate for the lack of time. That is how she also got into triathlons.
As the endurance season in the Kingdom is coming to an end, she looks forward to compete in H.H. Shaikh Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa’s Cup which is the last race on the calendar. After which, she will be joining the team in Europe for more races. As for triathlons, she aims to grow and if all goes well, she will compete in Ironman Bahrain 2017.
SO YOU THINK YOU CAN RIDE?
Horseback riding tips:
- Stay feminine. Remember that horses are sensitive and like to be handled gently. Natural advantage women have over men.
- Horse riding does not put limits to age or gender, anyone can start at any time during their lives. It promotes health and well-being. Don’t limit yourself, start now!
- Did you know that equestrianism is also used as therapy in helping people with physical and mental challenges? It is a great way to get in touch with nature’s beauty.
- A rider never stops learning so always make room for improvement. Every rider falls so don’t be scared from falling. If you fall off and didn’t get hurt, dust yourself and get back on.
- Never show fear, horses sense it! Horses respond to the riders emotions so always be confident and take control.