UAE’s first all-female camel racing team completes 100km ride through Jordan

The Arabian Desert Camel Riding Club has also competed in Saudi Arabia’s first women-only camel race

By Harriet Shephard

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Published: Sat 4 Nov 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Nov 2023, 4:06 PM

Travelling 100km through the desert on camelback isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. But the Dubai-based Arabian Desert Camel Riding Club (ADCRC) has never been one to do things the conventional way.

Home to the UAE’s first all-female camel racing team, and the founders of the nation’s first camel racing league for women, the club is accustomed to breaking boundaries.

In August, they competed in Saudi Arabia’s debut women-only camel race at the Crown Prince Camel Festival, and their high energy races at Dubai Camel Racing Club are free for spectators to attend.

The group’s recent trip to Wadi Rum, Jordan, was another important landmark for the club. Featuring a team of six riders and two Bedouin guides, the group slept under the stars on mats and blankets, and their only assistance was provided by a car that followed them carrying basic supplies.

ADCRC camel racing team member Jana Schmiedel was the lead organiser of the trip.

“I visited Jordan back in February to find a family from Wadi Rum to be our guides. We didn’t want to be tied into a caravan like other tourists are,” says Schmiedel.

“The family I chose care deeply about their camels and they were amazing to work with. Whenever we do rides overseas, we try to travel sustainably and work with local people instead of huge tourism companies. We want to give back to the countries we visit.”

For ADCRC member Coralie Viroulaud, it was her first time doing a long-distance camel ride outside of the UAE.

She says: “It was an incredible experience, and one that I will always remember. It was so nice to be away from city life and with no phone signal to distract us, it was a great chance to connect with nature. It was fascinating to learn a different way of riding, too. In the UAE we sit behind the hump, but in Jordan you sit on top of it. They also use two reins instead of one, and we had new commands to learn as well.”

The two-and-a-half-day ride saw the team traverse some of the most remote and unvisited areas of the picturesque desert, and ride for around eight hours per day.

Schmiedel adds: “Once we left the tourism area of Wadi Rum we saw no one else. The peace and quiet was amazing and to be able to hear the echo of the camel’s footsteps off the wadi walls was very special. There was no light pollution and we saw so many shooting stars and different constellations. The desert was so clean where there were no tourists, too.”

Based in Al Ain, Schmiedel has been riding camels since 2019. She explains that ADCRC’s main aim is to raise awareness about camel conservation and sustainability.

“The club is about far more than just riding and racing. It is focused on promoting sustainability and the many reasons why camels are such special animals. For instance, camel milk brings many benefits,” she states.

“Camel welfare is another key priority. Our camels are not tied to a post all day and they never carry two people at once like you see on tourist farms. To get up with two people on their backs puts a lot of strain on their front legs. We learn how to ride in unison with them and do it humanely.”

Viroulaud notes that camel riding is also a powerful way of connecting with the history of the UAE: “I’ve been living here for almost six years, and it’s nice to have a chance to immerse myself in the local culture. I love the connection that I have with my camel as well.”

ADCRC’s female members span all nationalities and backgrounds, including Emiratis. The next race is set for November 25, and the racing season runs from October to March.

“The adrenaline rush that comes from racing is incredible, and it’s lovely to see the camels so excited. They can’t stay still in the box. As soon as one race is over, I’m desperately waiting for the next,” says Schmiedel.

“As camel racing is a very traditional sport, there are still very few women on the scene. But we are working to change that and make it accessible to everyone. Hopefully we can expand it to other emirates as well. After all, I think everyone should have the chance to spend time with camels. They mirror your emotions, and they are very lovely animals. Connecting with a camel is good for the soul.”

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