The Endurance Rider
When and how did your equestrian career begin?
Equestrianism has always been an important aspect to my life, from both a family perspective and an important part of Irelands culture, therefore from an early age I was around horses regularly. Growing up on a stud farm, I became familiar with the thoroughbred aspect, my cousins were extremely avid show jumpers and my Father enjoyed hunting and eventing, so I really was exposed to a plethora of disciplines. My Father taught me how to ride alongside my sister with our beautiful Connemara pony Poppy. My career was then kickstarted at the Pony Club in Ireland, where I competed in a few ‘mini, midi, maxis’, before moving to Dubai at the age of twelve. I continued with numerous small, club level and national jumping shows until I was introduced to an equestrian sport I wasn’t aware existed, Endurance. Once I began qualifying and competing in this sport, I completely fell in love and believed I found my ultimate passion in life.
I began racing competitively around the age of seventeen and was extremely fortunate to be supported initially by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, for Seeh Al Salam Stables, this is where I earned my first podium finish, which will forever be an extremely memorable race for me. Subsequently, I had the opportunity to compete for His Highnness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum in MRM Stables and most recently for His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Al Maktoum for F3 Stables.
To what extent has your family played a role in your career and success?
I feel extremely fortunate to say my family is the most predominant driving force in my career. Although sometimes it may have seemed a little ‘ying and yang’, I am extremely lucky to have parents that supported me from differing aspects. My Father, undoubtedly, was keen in encouraging me to push my limits where I could, he would constantly remind me how I can always improve as a rider and would often encourage me to break past psychological barriers I had implemented myself. My Mammy, from a different perspective, was a major backbone in the whole process, whilst she would prep me for any competition, she would also sense when it was time to slow down and repeatedly enforce that my education came first. Starting off, endurance was quite a demanding sport both physically and mentally for me, hence the importance of having a strong support system at home. Regarding my younger Sister Ellen, I can quite honestly say I don’t know if I could have reached this level without her by my side. From day one, through every up and down, Ellen has been the most supporting, genuine, constant voice, who has been both my shoulder to cry on and the first person I have celebrated with after crossing the finish line.
Which school did you go to and how did you work your endurance career around the demands of exams/course work etc?
Now knowing that you attend University, what are you studying?. I studied in Jumeirah College from grade 6 to grade 13. Luckily, my school supported my horse racing and celebrated it often. For the duration I was studying in high school, the level I was at in Endurance wasn’t necessarily too obstructive in terms of time constraints and when the few scenarios arose I would prioritize my studies. A bigger issue for me at the time was trying to walk up three flights of stairs to get to classes a day after a race - for a while I got an elevator pass. Currently I am studying my Masters in Business Psychology at Heriot Watt University, which I am enjoying thoroughly.
What difficulties do you face being a woman in a male dominated sport?
Although Endurance in the UAE is a male dominated sport, it also explicitly offers opportunities for women, scheduling ‘Ladies races’ throughout the season, which I believe is a fantastic way to showcase the immense talent of the female riders in the region. These ladies race have a lower set minimum weight and usually range from 90km up to 119km. Although, similar to many sports there are stereotypical barriers that are present regarding ability and strength, I believe it is important to be confident in your personal aptitude, own it and enjoy witnessing the barriers you can break through. From my own personal experience, I believe focusing on your horse’s safety and well-being whilst being aware of others on the track is important when earning respect from your fellow competitors. Once experience and racing knowledge is developed I believe gender disparities swiftly diminish, as a powerful horse and rider combination will be noteworthy, regardless of the rider’s femininity.
What are your endurance career goals and plans?
I feel extremely lucky to have reached the position I am currently at in endurance and I am equally determined to reach as far as I can possibly go. My ultimate dream is to represent Ireland in the World Equestrian Games. I will continue to work for it and hope for the best!
What advice do you have for younger female riders who are also juggling school commitments and their riding careers?
I think routine is the most powerful attribute any young female rider can add to their daily life. Plan your week and allocate time accordingly; to your studies, training and competing, whilst also factoring in good down time to rest and recover. Once the routine is established, it will soon become habit and everything will flow a lot easier. I also think it is very important to continue to love when you go riding, if there comes a point where it just becomes added pressure, there is no harm in taking a small break and then going back to it later when your schedule eases up. For me, going training in the morning before class was a great stress release.
Would you say to parents who tell their children equestrianism is not a 'real' career?
Equestrianism is most definitely a real career, which is equally demanding and rewarding. From personal experience, since I was young my parents encouraged me to focus on my education and pursue equestrianism as a hobby. In hindsight I honestly believe this worked well for me because I knew if I wanted to compete, I equally had to succeed in my studies, which I believe bred great discipline. When working in sport and specifically, working with horses, every day can be unpredictable, therefore I believe it is wise for parents to advise their children ‘not to put all their eggs in one basket’, so to speak. I think for parents it is definitely worth having a realistic conversation with their children on the sport they want to pursue and the possible future they may have in it. If their children are extremely passionate and eager, I believe this should be supported and celebrated as much as possible.
What traits would you say make a top female endurance rider?
Something I have discovered during my endurance career, is that there is not one ‘correct way’ to ride, it’s all about being confident in your ability and being driven by your passion. It is important to acknowledge both your strong and weak points and work to better yourself constantly. Personally, I believe the most important attribute for an endurance rider is moving with your horse in harmony, after that style, strength and stamina are all bonuses. For females, I feel it is important to ride with confidence and not be intimidated by fellow male participants and the perceived greater power that may be attributed. Endurance isn’t all about strength, with races ranging up to 160km in a day, strength can diminish but respecting your horse, ambition and determination will not.
What is your fondest memory and triumph in your career so far?
My favourite race would have to be the ‘Seeh al Salam Endurance Cup, 100km’ at the start of this season. I had the opportunity to ride my favourite mare Utoufa De Lap from F3 stable and we led the race from start to finish. I feel an extremely special connection to this mare and whenever I am competing with her I feel she takes care of me as much as I take care of her, I don’t want the race to end! I also feel extremely proud to have won the Sheikh Mohammed Cup for Ladies in 2018 and the Crown Prince Cup for Ladies in 2018, which are two very prestigious races held during the UAE season.