In conversation with Khadijah Mellah, the first hijab wearing jockey

27th Sep 2019
In conversation with Khadijah Mellah, the first hijab wearing jockey

Khadijah with Haverland after winning the Magnolia Cup (Photo: courtesy of the Great British Racing)

On August 1, 18-year-old Khadijah won the Magnolia Cup charity race for women riders at the Qatar Goodwood Festival. In doing so, she became the first British Muslim woman to ride competitively on a British racecourse. It was her first-ever race which she won on the horse Haverland, trained by Charlie Fellowes in Newmarket where she had been based for the 6 weeks. The student from Peckham in South London first learnt to ride at the charity, Ebony Horse Club in Brixton.
A documentary called Riding a Dream, which has followed Khadijah’s journey from Ebony Horse Club to making history at Goodwood, will air on ITV later this year. The Muslim News caught up with the teenager after her famous win.

How did you come to race in the Magnolia Cup?
I’ve been riding at Ebony Horse Club in Brixton for about 7 years, and one of the patrons is Oli Bell who works for ITV Racing. It was his idea that one of the members took part in the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood and the team at the club asked me if I would do it. I said yes but not knowing anything about the race or Goodwood or what it would be like. I’ve had a film team following me during the whole journey. The documentary, Riding a Dream, shows how I went from riding inner-city ponies to racehorses – they’re a lot faster than you think!

What did winning the Cup feel like?
It was just the most amazing feeling, I couldn’t stop crying. I was so nervous beforehand but once I got to the start I felt a bit calmer because you are away from the crowds. When the race started there was kickback from the other horses in front of me and it’s the fastest I have ever gone. Then Haverland just went and I was screaming. Coming back into the winners’ enclosure and seeing all my friends and family and hearing the crowd – I just didn’t want to get off, and I wish I could do it all again.

What feedback did you get from the horseracing community after your win?
I have had so many messages from people. It has been overwhelming. I am not sure whether I have got through and replied to them all yet. I have had people contact me saying that they were scared to try riding but are now going to give it a go, and that is just the best thing to hear. I have always wanted to be a role model so if one person is inspired by my story that’s amazing. The reaction from racing has been amazing, and I am so grateful to Charlie Fellowes and everyone at the British Racing School and all the people that helped me.

What now for you?
I get my A-level results this Thursday [August 15] and I’m going to study mechanical engineering. I hadn’t really thought of it beforehand, but I might take out my amateur jockeys licence and I definitely want to keep riding in charity races.

Why do you think Muslim women do not take up horseracing? And do you think your win will inspire young Muslim women to take up the sport on a professional level?
The majority of the Muslim community live in cities and there just isn’t the access to horses that you would get in the countryside. That’s why places like Ebony are so amazing because it gives you the chance to ride and be with horses that you wouldn’t expect to get – like Brixton. Hopefully, people will see what I have done and follow their dreams as well.

How do you feel about your new-found fame?
It is so strange. I never set out on this journey expecting the media attention or to make history – that just wasn’t part of the plan at all at the start. It’s been amazing because I have done Good Morning Britain; BBC 1Xtra and spoken to so many people I wouldn’t have done normally. It’s calmed down a bit now but hopefully, I can be a good role model to people.

Interview by Elham Asaad Buaras

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