Emirati equestrian Fatima Alharthi has a simple message for all: 'Believe in Yourself' – wknd.

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2022 | Sha'ban 05, 1443
Published: Mon 7 Mar 2022, 11:39 PM
Last updated: Tue 8 Mar 2022, 10:50 AM
What does it take for a woman to be a trailblazer in today’s world? Is it enough to boldly venture into a male-dominated territory, fight gender stereotypes and break the glass ceiling in the bargain?
For Fatima Alharthi, one of the UAE’s first female professional endurance riders, it is all this and more. The Emirati equestrian who took up the sport at the age of 16, after being inspired by her uncle, a horse rider, has made a name for herself in the shifting sands of the UAE.
Endurance riders are known the world over for their gruelling training schedule, exceptional skill and a blinders on approach to a sport that often doesn’t give one much leeway for a breather. But Fatima has over the years remained true to her passion, ensuring she stays the course with an unstinting focus on achieving all that she set out to. She admits that being a woman it wasn’t easy for her in the beginning despite her parents’ complete support. “They were the first to motivate me and encourage me to do it because my uncle used to be a horse rider,” she explains. “My mum used to joke saying ‘I used to ride a donkey, why do you have a horse!’”
She credits her family for being her biggest cheerleaders even as she painstakingly learnt the technique and trained constantly to up her game. “I had to be more fit as a rider,” she says, admitting that she used to fall down so often from her horse initially that she had constant bruises all over her body. But all these challenges only egged her on and today she is proud of the woman she has become. “I always accept challenges,” she says with a smile by way of explaining what kept her going through the initial setbacks.
The horse whisperer
Unlike many other competitive sports that solely depend on the prowess of the individual, endurance riding calls for a skilled rider and his/her connect with the horse is of paramount importance.
Fatima admits that to be a good horse rider it is not enough to just know how to ride a horse. It is extremely important to read the horse’s body language to glean what he wants and how he is feeling.
“That reflects my understanding of me as a rider and in turn helps me communicate what I want from him,” she says, adding that only once you learn to read the horse properly can it be a smooth ride for both. The rider and the horse have to be aligned in a way the latter reflects what the former needs at any given time during the race.
The fact that Fatima, 30, is today at the peak of her game is evident when she says other riders are amazed when she takes on a ‘difficult’ horse. “During the race they ask me; ‘How is the horse?’, and I say; ‘He is good, he is cool.’ And they are like; ‘How come? This is a difficult horse for us!’”
With a background in Visual Media Communications and a specialisation in Journalism, Videography and Photography, this young Emirati is today a proud torchbearer for many others in the region. In between gruelling weekly training sessions including long rides of a minimum of 30km, Fatima is also a proud multi-tasker who finds time to indulge her other passions for painting, scuba diving, hiking and mountain climbing!
It’s no surprise then that she is part of Canon’s ‘Trailblazer’ women; recognised for her boldness, perseverance and determination. “It is a very great honour to be part of Canon’s trailblazers. This means so much to me as an Emirati horse rider and I hope I inspire other women as much as I can and motivate them to be what they want to be.”
A go-getter
Her mother has always been her inspiration, despite the fact that there are times when she says no to her! But Fatima seems to have found a way around that as well as she says that she manages to convince her “and then she prays for me and says ‘God bless you and just go ahead’.”
“I feel so happy to help other women, to positively influence them to achieve what they want to achieve,” she says with a shy smile. “Before, there were only a limited number of Emirati women competing in this sport — in endurance especially — now I am happy to see young Emirati ladies competing with men.”
She also points out that earlier trainers did not trust women who they felt were weak and couldn’t control their horses properly. “Now everything is changed, women can even compete with men. They can easily become top 3 in endurance racing,” she asserts. She is also proud that many of the young girls who sought her advice at the beginning of their careers, fearful of riding long distances and at high speeds demanded from the sport, are today at the top of their game. She always encourages them with a rousing, “You can do it!”
As for herself, she says after her mum, her biggest inspiration has always been the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE.
“Whatever I want to do, I just remember his words. He left us with this equality between men and women.” Today she proudly ventures forth with his words in her mind and despite all challenges and difficulties, “I tell myself I’m going to achieve this.”
Endurance riding is an extremely tough sport, demanding exceptional skill, utter disciple and a constant level of training. There is no downtime for Fatima who says keeping fit is an ongoing challenge and she has to train 3-4 days a week to ensure she will perform well in the next race.
Other than riding she is also into running and hiking (“being fit in the gym is different to being fit with horse riding”) and ensures she keeps moving around since if she fails to do so it becomes harder to get back on track.
What motivates Fatima today is the knowledge that whatever be the challenges, however hard the race be, giving up is not an option. “I always aim for the top — this is the first thing on my mind.”
For various reasons she may not always be able to complete a race, but she ensures she doesn’t come out of a race without learning something, every single time.
“I don’t feel sad if I don’t complete the race,” she says, “I feel happy that I led the race, and learnt something anew.” And that’s a philosophy that reflects in her conversation as well which is filled with grace, positivity and a brimming optimism.
She also believes in visualisation, setting herself a target every month and believing that she will achieve it no matter what. “This is what makes me stronger. I believe in myself. Whenever I set my wish list, I always write — I can do and I will — on top.”
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