She’s been the talk of the UK equestrian industry this week, and rightly so: when eighteen-year-old Khadijah Mellah saddled up for her racing debut in Goodwood’s Magnolia Cup, a ladies-only charity race supporting medical research charity Wellbeing of Women, she’d only been training for four months. But while her accomplishment in not just completing but winning the popular race is impressive in itself, what’s even more important is the much-needed representation she brings to the forefront of the conversation.
“A big part of my life has just been proving people wrong about what a person like me can achieve,” says the teenager, who lives in Peckham, south London, and rides at Brixton’s Ebony Horse Club. And boy, has she done just that. Khadijah has stormed fearlessly into a sport that, for all its progressiveness where gender roles are concerned, remains inordinately whitewashed – and she’s done so at the maelstrom of a cultural climate that sees Muslims ostracised, targeted, and widely misunderstood by westerners. By wearing her hijab she doesn’t just become the first-ever hijabi jockey – she also wears her faith with pride, allowing it come to the forefront of conversation, and creating a familiar touchstone for many millions of little girls who will now see the horse world as one they, too, could join. And that, folks, is a beautiful thing.
The diversity issue in the equestrian industry is a thorny one, but it’s one that can be aided by open, empathetic conversation. We encourage you to join in the discussion, but please – keep it kind and keep it productive. We’re all human beings united by one thing – the ineffable love of horses – and only by celebrating our differences can we make it clear that our wonderful, weird industry is a safe space for everyone.
In the meantime, go Khadijah – and go racing. We know she will.