UAE: 13-year-old Emirati equestrian seeks to promote dressage, get young riders to follow the path

Since the dressage community is small, and trainers are hard to find in the Emirates, it prompted Shamsa to start show jumping

Shamsa Al Mheiri. Photos: Supplied
Shamsa Al Mheiri. Photos: Supplied

Lamya Tawfik

Published: Sun 22 Jan 2023, 3:56 PM

Last updated: Sun 22 Jan 2023, 8:49 PM

Shamsa Al Mheiri is only 13 years old but is already the reigning Junior Dressage Champion for the last three years. She got her recent accolade last week at the National Dressage Show.

Khaleej Times caught up with the young Emirati athlete to ask her about her passion for Equestrian sports such as dressage and show jumping. It all began at her grandfather’s house in Spain during her summer holidays.

“We would go in the summer and had a stable next to our house, down the road. I would go and see all the trainers working with their horses, and I thought it was such a beautiful and elegant sport,” said Shamsa adding that she started riding when she was only 3 years old and started dressage when she was 5.

Sheikh Haitham bin Saqr Al Qassimi (L) handing over a trophy to Shamsa (C) and Sultan Khalifa Al Yahya’ie, Director General of Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club looking on (R).
Sheikh Haitham bin Saqr Al Qassimi (L) handing over a trophy to Shamsa (C) and Sultan Khalifa Al Yahya’ie, Director General of Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club looking on (R).

Today, she is the UAE junior champion for the third consecutive year, participating with her Dutch sports pony Electra. “I’ve had her since I was 7 and she was only 4 years old. We were both very young, and we had to work a lot together. Our connection is really strong because we spent a lot of time together; we grew up together in the sport,” said Shamsa.

She says that her mother is her biggest supporter and that she comes to every show – “she never missed one”. She also has support from her school who accommodate her participation in championships and make sure she is all caught up when she’s back.

In the UAE, Shamsa says the biggest challenge she faced was that the dressage community is very small, and trainers are hard to find. “I’m really trying to promote dressage here to get young riders to follow this path, especially Emiratis,” she said.

This prompted her to start show jumping as well, another equestrian discipline she is passionate about and one that is more popular in the UAE. “I’m honoured to be riding on the Al Shira’aa Show Jumping team under the support and guidance of Sheikha Fatima Bint Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan,” she said, adding that it is an incredible sport, and that dressage is a great starting point for show jumping. “I believe all show jumpers should train in dressage,” she said, adding that she is blessed that she is able to do both.

Shamsa has been training for the last 6 months with Diana Al Shaer, an athlete, cultural diplomat and dressage trainer who is keen on training more Arabs in the sport. “Dressage is still not common in the Arab world, and this is why only a few years ago it was decided in the International Equestrian Federation’s regional group of the Middle East and North Africa to create a dressage committee, of which I’m in charge, to develop it in the region,” she said.

According to Diana, other equestrian disciplines like endurance, races and jumping are more popular but there is a rise in demand for dressage. “There are more people coming into this discipline. I managed to unite top riders in the region in the committee so they can share their expertise and experiences with people who are interested and want to do it. I see a promising future especially in the UAE,” she said.

Dressage, according to Diana, is about a deep connection between the rider and the horse — it’s about elegance, harmony, perfection. “During the dressage journey you will learn a lot about yourself because in order to achieve the sports harmony with your sport partner, (your horse) you need to have a lot of control over yourself – your body and state of mind,” she explained adding that the positive effects of dressage will be felt in other areas of one’s life such as relationships, business and career.

The elegant part of dressage is visible as the movements look like a natural dance. “It’s a beautiful dance and the partner is the horse. The horse shows the most beautiful capacity of natural movement under the rider. The idea is that the rider and horse are one unit. You don’t see the rider doing anything on the horse and that it’s doing all the movements by itself while it is actually aided by the rider’s deep muscles and balance,” she said.

Her main goal is to develop the sport in the UAE and in the region in general while building a team in her country, Palestine. “I have students here in the UAE and the idea is to one day build a team among the youth, juniors and senior riders. There needs to be national teams in different categories and the immediate goal is to take part in the Asian games,” she said.

Diana, who lives in the Netherlands, comes to the UAE every three months for her students but also to work with the national federation to develop programs and organise masterclasses.

In the UAE, she said mostly women are interested in dressage because culturally, males are more interested in sports that involve speed and high adrenaline. She believes that there’s an opportunity for sports diplomacy and building bridges through sports culture. “I do believe sports can be great tool of public diplomacy. You can organise international dressage events and you bring more people for a discipline that's not already there,” she said.

Diana is an International Grand Prix dressage rider representing Palestine. She is the first Arab woman who competed at the World Equestrian Championships in dressage (ECCO FEI World Championships in Herning, 2022). She also leads on several international occasions including being the former co-chairman of the People’s Assembly of Eurasia, the current President of the international association of equestrian amateurs, and a chairman of the dressage committee in FEI regional Group 7 (Middle East & North Africa).


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