The 18-year-old Khadijah Mellah, the first hijabi jockey on a British equestrian racecourse, will take part in the 2019 Magnolia Cup charity Flat racing’s summer highlights, The Guardian reported. It took her two years on a waiting list before she could join Ebony Horse Club but she has long been a regular and it pains her that more people aren’t aware of the opportunity.
“To this day, people are like: ‘You ride in Brixton? Where?’ There’s literally a railway that goes above it, you see the horses from the train. Does no one pay attention?” Mellah said.
Just five months ago, the riding ambitions of the Muslim teenager didn’t extend beyond occasional lessons at the club in London. Yet, she’s currently expected to line up in a challenge event against former jockey and cyclist Victoria Pendleton, Irish model and TV presenter Vogue Williams, Apprentice series nine runner-up Luisa Zissman and others in a cavalry charge at the Sussex racecourse.
Mellah is being trained by Hayley Turner and Oli Bell, the latter executive producer of a documentary film about the challenge she has taken which will also be a significant moment in British racing.
The Muslim jockey, who has tackled many different sports and is a black belt in karate, is a particular fan of the fundraising athlete Manal Rostom, founder of the women-only online support group Surviving Hijab.
Bell says: “Khadijah sent her a message saying: ‘You’re an inspiration’. She told me, if one person messages me and says I’m an inspiration that would make me the proudest person. She’s a real titan. She might only be 18 but when we asked her about doing this, she said yes, 100%.”
Mellah’s parents recall their daughter’s ambitions by saying: “There’s this mosque in Brixton, sometimes we go for Arabic classes or religious celebrations, and we were walking past and my mum saw a leaflet up in the window. She was like, ‘There’s a riding club in Brixton’. I was like, yeah, Mum, sure. Absolutely no way. Oh my God, there is!”
It was with the aim of raising the club’s profile that Bell, who is a patron, arranged for one of its riders to take part in the Magnolia Cup. Khadijah’s response was: “Oooh a race, that sounds cool.”
“She looks tidier than I do,” her mentor Turner says, as they compare styles on adjacent equicizers, or mechanical horses. She tells Khadijah to “tie a knot in the end of her reins, so it doesn’t hang down and catch around her boot, and explains the importance of not relaxing when the winning post is reached, which has led to more than one unseated rider in past Magnolia Cups.”
Next autumn, Mellah plans to be studying mechanical engineering but she may continue riding out in Newmarket and her younger brother, Abdus, will keep her apprised of the latest in racing as he seeks a jockey’s career.
“I’ve grown closer to my brother because I now see eye to eye with him about racing. It’s something he’s very into and now that I’m into it too, we can have a good conversation,” she says.
This article was originally published on aboutislam.net