From newbie to champion: Meet the Frenchwoman turning spotlight on camel racing in UAE

Just this month, Coralie topped the podium at the inaugural edition of a landmark, all-women camel race in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

By Harriet Shephard

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Top Stories

Coralie Viroulaud
Coralie Viroulaud

Published: Sun 25 Feb 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 25 Feb 2024, 10:55 PM

Born and raised in the historic region of Charente in south western France, Coralie Viroulaud has loved horse riding since she was just seven years’ old. However, she never imagined that one day she would learn to ride — and race — on a different kind of animal.

Based in Dubai for the past six years, the 31-year old marketing manager is now one of the region’s top female camel jockeys. Despite only discovering camel riding two years ago, she has already won two races in the UAE. Just this month, she also topped the podium at the inaugural edition of a landmark, all-women camel race in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“I found out about the Arabian Desert Camel Riding Club (ADCRC) through a woman I knew from horse riding,” said Viroulaud.

Stay up to date with the latest news. Follow KT on WhatsApp Channels.

“Back then my only interaction with camels had been sitting on one for a few seconds during a desert safari, and I was a bit afraid of them. But soon I realised that they are very gentle and sensitive creatures. My first ride at the club was a great experience and when I heard that some of the riders were female jockeys, I become determine to learn how to race too.”

Riding barefoot with no stirrups

Viroulaud’s first camel race was in October 2022. Along with riding her own horse and working full-time, she races on the C1 Championship, the only camel racing series for women in the UAE.

She took part in the Saudi Arabia’s first all-women tournament back in August and she has participated in adventurous, long-distance and multi-day camel treks through Oman, Jordan and the UAE.

The ADCRC women’s camel racing team trains once or twice a week and each session is different. Sometimes they will run (or canter) as far as two kilometres, and sometimes they will practice trotting up to five kilometres.

“If I’m not in the office, I’m at the stables. I often go twice a day and I never get home before 9pm. You don’t need to know how to ride a horse to try camel riding; they are totally different. We ride barefoot with no stirrups, sit on blankets and have one rein. You have such a deep connection with your camel and they’re so fun to ride. I wish more women of all nationalities would give it a go,” she says.

Inspiring female camel jockeys

Viroulaud’s recent win in Riyadh is considered a groundbreaking moment in women’s sport. It formed part of 'The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Camel Festival', a huge cultural event that also featured six races for men and a total prize pot of more than SAR 70 million.

Starring 15 female jockeys and covering a distance of two kilometres, five of the top 10 winners in the women’s race were from Dubai’s ADCRC. The team met Prince Fahad Al Saud and Viroulaud was awarded SAR 60,000 (almost Dh59,000) in prize money.

However, her biggest reward was being given the chance to inspire a whole new generation of female camel jockeys.

“Winning in Riyadh has allowed me to put the spotlight on women’s camel racing in the UAE like never before. We want to defy the stereotype that camel racing is just for men and make the sport accessible to all,” she says.

“The Saudi Camel Racing federation is doing so much to support female camel racing and we had such a great time out there. All of us from ADCRC are really close. We think of ourselves as a team and we celebrate each other’s wins.”

Mix of adrenaline, excitement

Winning with a time of three minutes and 27 seconds, Viroulaud describes racing as a mix of adrenaline and excitement.

“Camels can reach speeds of between 40 to 45hm/h. Racing is an incredible feeling,” she notes.

“My family was very surprised when I first mentioned that I wanted to try camel racing, but now they are extremely proud of me. My friends back in France also think it’s an unusual and extremely exciting hobby.”

Spectators are welcome to watch the C1 Championship events in Dubai and entry is free of charge. The next race is scheduled for February, Saturday 24 at 4pm in Al Marmoon Heritage Village, Dubai, and the last race of the season will take place in March 2024.


More news from UAE