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Sheikha Latifah Al Maktoum: In love with the process

Wednesday, 07 February 2018

Sheikha Latifah Al Maktoum, United Arab Emirate’s leading lady rider, has despite her young age already achieved a lot in the sport. She represented her country at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 as well as at the World Equestrian Games in Lexington in 2010, both times with Kalaska de Semilly. World of Showjumping sat down with the 32-year-old to discuss the horses that have shaped her career, the development of showjumping in the UAE and the true beauty of our sport.

“Kalaska: He took me everywhere, taught me everything I know and kept me humble,” Latifah starts to tell about the horse that took her to her first major championships. “He is special. The horses are what I love most about this sport,” she continues. “I love the process. The process of getting a horse and building them up from nothing, I really love that. I have always done it. With Kalaska, I had him since he was seven and we went all the way up together. And with my other good mare, Peanuts De Beaufor, as well,” she tells. “Yes, I love being in the big classes and in the big sport – but more than that the process of taking horses as far as they can go. That is my passion.”

Latifah’s biggest success to date, is not the championships, but is to be found in the journey – like the one she has shared with Peanuts. “I got her as a five-year-old and we won the five-star President’s Cup here in Abu Dhabi in 2015,” Latifah tells us. “For me, that was a huge success – we started from zero, we had really hard times. We had a year that was really, really tough. In times like that, you start to doubt yourself and your horse. You start to think if you can actually do it. You will always have ups and downs, in everything, in any sport,” she tells about the rocky road travelled. “But you just have to go through that and as soon as you cross, everything starts to click. I think that is the beauty of our sport – when you start to understand each other better.”

Since her best horse has been out of action for the past two years, Latifah has not been competing at the highest level. But that is where she has her eyes set – and on Tokyo 2020. “It is definitely a goal! I really want to get back,” she says. “When I went the first time, I was very young and I had no clue about what I was doing. Both of us knew nothing, me and my horse. I want to go back to the Olympics with more experience, more polished up and have the right support and right system around me,” she says. “Peanuts is starting to compete again, and it would be nice to have her back. When she goes in the ring, she is like a lion.”

Latifah is looking to come back stronger than ever. “I train a lot,” she says. “I am so small, and my horses are big. When I don’t train I am in agony. I also think that for your mental strength fitness is really important. Because you do things that are really hard and you want to stop and give up, but you keep pushing through,” she explains. “You get better and stronger. I train cross fit. I started doing it after I had an accident in 2016. I lost a bit of my confidence and I needed something to push me. With the heavier weights, and doing things that you are not comfortable with and that you are bad at – that makes you better. I believe in working on your weaknesses – show no weakness.”

With the ups and downs that she has been faced with in this sport, Latifah has learned a lot. “You take the good and you take the bad. You understand why it happened, and you don’t do it again – you just look at it once and then forget it,” she tells about her ways of dealing with it all. “To be honest, to have the right people support you, when you have those days, is important. We are humans, they are animals, we all have our days. You just have to believe in yourself and in your horse.”

Sharing her time between the UAE and Europe, Latifah has trained with Ramzy Al Duhami for years. “I am based in Europe for six months every year, in Normandy and in Wisbeqck with Ramzy. I have also worked a little bit with Ludger Beerbaum and Philipp Weishaupt,” she tells. “On a normal day, I wake up, ride, go to the gym and play with my dogs. Riding my horses, that is my joy. We are all blessed to be able to do this. I think a lot of people take it for granted, but the fact that we can do this sport and the connection we have with the animals, is just beautiful.”

“My family is all about horses, but more in endurance and racing. I am the only one who got into showjumping. I think the sport in UAE is progressing a lot. With the amount of shows and the European riders coming here, it forces the sport and the riders to get better. I think the league here is really helping us to produce riders, also juniors and young riders. Not everybody can go to Europe and compete there, so it is nice that we can see European riders here, it motivates us.”

“I think at the moment it is maybe the organization,” she goes on to explain about the differences between the sport in Europe and in her region. “In Europe, you have options to go to different shows. Here, you only have one show every weekend and you are forced to go there. The variety and the choices are better in Europe, you can choose where you want to go. I want to see the gap between the Arab league and the European league to close a bit. I think the sport is competitive here, we have good horses and good riders. I am very proud of everything we have here.”

The sport of showjumping might be a developing one, but horses have always been a huge part of the Arab culture. “For my example, we live around horses,” she tells. “We always had horses, we are always around animals. If you see the kids, it is a family sport, it is a big thing.” And how is it, being a girl and riding, we wonder? “It is actually very acceptable. There are a lot of girls competing and coming up. Specially in the smaller, national classes you see them a lot. I think the only thing is that they need to believe in themselves more, that they can do it. It is the same in Europe, I think,” Latifah tells us. “Don’t be afraid of the hard work that comes with it,” is her advice to any young girl seeking a career in showjumping. “To be here, you have to work hard and put in the hours. You have to work hard and not be afraid of that.”

And encouraging others is something that Latifah is very keen on doing. “There is a girl here who rides in the children’s classes, and she rides beautifully,” she tells. “So, I went and I told her that. Whenever I see girls who ride really well, I go to them and I try to tell them. I think, for girls, knowing that they can be in the top of this sport, is very important.”

“I think horses actually do connect us – it is the same language we all speak when we are riding,” she goes on to talk about one of the most beautiful aspects of our sport. “The equestrian community is a small community, and everybody knows each other – you learn to communicate,” she says. “I think if we would not be riding, we would not be meeting so many people from so many different nationalities. But in this sport, you have to and you see a lot of different people, different cultures and countries. It is beautiful."

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