UAE: How women who have never seen camels became expert riders

They are not only participating but defying expectations and breaking barriers


Ruqayya Al Qaydi

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Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Published: Sat 25 May 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 26 May 2024, 4:16 PM

A remarkable transformation is taking place in the world of camel racing in the UAE. Traditionally a male-dominated sport, camel racing is now seeing an influx of women who, until recently, had never even seen a camel. These women are not only participating but becoming expert riders, defying expectations, and breaking barriers.

Jana Schmiedel, a 40-year old German adventurer, is one such example. She had never considered camel racing until she befriended a local Emirati family in Al Ain. She said: "My interest in camels came from my interest in local culture and the friendship I formed with the family.”

Before this, camel racing was entirely new to her.

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Jana said there is absolute joy in forming a deeper connection with the majestic animals — knows as ships of the desert — beyond the racetrack. "It is also a privilege to be among the first female camel jockeys to promote this sport for women," she added.

Jana Schmiedel.
Jana Schmiedel.

Unexpectedly thrilling

Sioned Taylor, a 54-year old British newcomer to the sport, discovered camel racing only six months ago. "I never knew it existed for human riders until I spoke to someone from a cycling club who told me about it. Within a week, I had signed up for my first lesson," she shared.

Sioned Taylor.
Sioned Taylor.

Sioned, who previously had no experience with camels, found the sport unexpectedly thrilling and safer compared to her previous activities like skydiving and triathlons. "After over 200 jumps from planes, helicopters, and hot air balloons, I decided camel racing was safer!" she quipped.

Despite the challenges, such as unexpected twists and turns during races, Sioned remains determined to excel in her newfound passion.

Embracing the sport

Jennifer Reggio, a 40-year old American horse racing manager, was introduced to camel racing by a friend. Having never interacted with camels before, Jennifer embraced the sport wholeheartedly. "I always tell my son that you should push yourself from your comfort zone –that is where growth happens," she emphasised.

Jennifer Reggio.
Jennifer Reggio.

Jennifer is also passionate about representing the rich heritage and culture of the region through her participation in camel racing.

Coralie Viroulaud, a 31-year old Frenchwoman, meanwhile, discovered camel racing after relocating to the UAE. "Sport in general is great for the mind and keeps you fit, and it’s definitely true with camel racing," she said.

Coralie Viroulaud.
Coralie Viroulaud.

Adrenaline rush

Jordanian expat Rawan Salah, 27, started her journey participating in the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Center (HHC) camel trek back in 2022. After that experience, she heard about camel racing and started training with the Arabian Desert Camel Riding Centre (ADCRC) to compete in international races. It has been almost two years since she started riding camels.

For Rawan, the thrill of the race lies in the adrenaline rush of the initial gallop. "The first few seconds when the gate lifts and the camel jumps into a gallop are the best adrenaline-filled seconds. I literally feel like I’m flying," she said.

Long-lasting connections

Speaking to the trainer of the first all-ladies camel jockey team and founder of ADCRC, German coach Linda Krockenberger, 32, told Khaleej Times: “Camel racing is a sport perfectly suited for women. Women are not only interested in competition but are also very keen to discover the characters and personalities of the camels and build long-lasting connections to the animals.”

Based in the UAE for nearly a decade, Linda switched from horses to camels in 2019 out of sheer curiosity.

She said the recent race in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia, highlighted the significant increase in female participation — from being the sole woman amidst hundreds of men in 2023 to witnessing over 20 women competing in their own category in 2024.


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