(MENAFN- The Peninsula) fawad hussain |
Doha: Not many knew Wejdan Majed Al Malki – Qatar's first international five-star Grand Prix dressage rider – battled health problems and was hospitalised twice before she made a comeback at the CHI Al Shaqab last month.
Pairing up with the 19-year-old purebred bay Spanish stallion Mango Jacaro, the 45-year-old rider – despite missing action for seven months last year – displayed a performance that was enough to make history for Qatar.
The points Wejdan earned at her second appearance at the five-star Grand Prix at CHI Al Shaqab lent her Olympic world rankings making her eligible to compete in qualifying events throughout this year for Paris 2024 Olympics – the first Qatari and GCC dressage rider to achieve the feat.
In rest of the Arab world, dressage riders from only Morocco and Palestine have the Olympic rankings.
“It feels amazing. I've worked very hard. I've been in Europe for four years, since June 2018. I had to leave my family. I left my job because I believed that I could do this,” Wejdan, who has worked at Al Shaqab as equestrian center riding academy manager and then its deputy director besides spending her career years in the oil and gas industry, told The Peninsula in an interview.
“I'm delighted to have been able to achieve that in less than eight international competitions and in less than a year [of international participation]. I'm really hoping to qualify for Paris,” said the rider, who trains in Germany.
Wejdan, who studied marine biology, made her five-star debut last year at the CHI Al Shaqab where she finished at creditable sixth position. Last month, her position dipped but she is satisfied with her performance.
“Any competition at five-star level is very challenging. The five-star judges are strict and they don't forgive even a small mistake. I was off for seven months for health reasons and returned to training only five weeks before the competition. I was very happy with the performance. We felt like it was very, very good, but the judges felt otherwise. But, we did our best and we have the rest of the year to improve on our performance and our work together.
“Of course the other disadvantage is my horse is 19, so he's older this year than he was last year. The older we get, the more tired we get, the more aches and pains we have so it becomes difficult to maintain high scoring and perform at your peak,” she added.
Apart from other competitions that will carry ranking points in 2023, there will be one main qualifying event later this year for Wejdan's Group F, the schedule of which is yet to be announced.
After spending time with family during the Holy month of Ramadan, Wejdan will return to Germany to train for the event.
“I will go back at the end of this month or eighth of April at the latest to begin my training. Normally the main event comes in September or October. There are only three of us. The highest two ranked riders will go through and I am very much hopeful to qualify and represent Qatar at the Olympics.”
Meanwhile, Wejdan may also retire Mango Jacaro, whom she is with since the start of COVID-19 pandemic three years ago.
“I will go as long as he is able to go. I am very aware that he might not be able to be the horse that I can compete in Paris next year, which puts me in a bit of a dilemma because I don't have another Grand Prix horse. It's incredibly challenging to find a horse that meets your requirements at this level. We have only one qualifying year so there is a time restriction and financial challenges as well because competitive sport horses at this level may be you can compare them to luxury sports cars like Aston Martin,” she said.
“So if Mango Jacaro can keep going, we'll keep going but his well-being is my priority,” Wejdan added.
Wejdan said she may also represent Qatar at this year's Asian Games in China.
“We're talking about it but obviously the Asian Games is not a qualifying event for the Paris Olympics. But I will be delighted to represent my country. Qatar will hopefully be sending a team to train so we can go represent our country as a team because it's been a while since that has happened in dressage. But parallel to that, we're hopefully going to focus on the Olympic qualifying events as well.”
Dressage is one of the three Olympic equestrian sports, alongside eventing and showjumping. It involves demonstrating a horse's training by performing a set of prescribed movements in front of a panel of judges.