Saudi Arabian equestrian Dalma Malhas training for the Diriyah Equestrian Festival. (Supplied)
Tommy Hilton, Al Arabiya English
Male and female equestrians are riding side-by-side for the first time in Saudi Arabia at the Diriyah Equestrian Festival on Thursday.
Over 120 riders from across the world have come to al Duhami farm, in the UNESCO heritage world heritage site Diriyah, to compete at the event which will determine who qualifies for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games.
“What makes this edition of the Diriyah Equestrian Festival so special is the participation of women equestrians, and we are confident that they will put on performances we can all be proud of,” said Prince Abdullah Bin Fahad Al Saud, president of the Saudi Equestrian Federation, during a press conference on December 10.
Prince Abdullah’s sentiment was echoed by Saudi Arabian female jockey Dalma Malhos, who won bronze at the Youth Olympic Games 14-18 age group.
“I cannot put into words how I feel right now. I can barely sleep as it is a dream come true,” said Malhos, referring to being able to compete in her home country.
The competition has been sanctioned by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI), meaning that the riders will receive points to qualify to represent their respective countries at the Olympics based on their performances. Building on the success of last year’s inaugural Diriyah Equestrian Festival, this year’s tournament is a central part of the Kingdom’s investment in the sport ahead of hosting the 2024 Equestrian World Cup.
“Having the Kingdom be selected to host the 2024 World Cup is a direct result of what the international community has witnessed in terms of the efforts and preparation levels we have to host competitions of the highest magnitude,” said Prince Abdullah.
Saudi Arabia will host the Saudi Cup – the world’s richest horse race – in February 2020, where female equestrians are also expected to participate.
“The sky is the limit for our ambitions, and we will go above and beyond what we plan for,” added Prince Abdullah.
While investment in the sport has ramped up under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan, Saudi Arabia has a long cultural history of equestrianism. Several Saudi Arabian jockeys have competed on the world stage, including Olympic medalist Ramzy Al Duhami, who built the farm at which the competition is taking place.
“I’ve been riding and competing for the better part of three decades now, to host such a competition with some of the best equestrians from all across the globe descending on the arena we’ve built is an accomplishment I’ve aspired for,” said Ramzy.
The event is taking place under the umbrella of the “Diriyah Season” program, one of the Kingdom’s initiatives to develop the entertainment and sports sector is in line with Vision 2030.
So far, the season has included the “Clash on the Dunes” boxing match between heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and Brian Ruiz Jr, Diriyah E-Prix 2019, the equivalent of Formula One for electric cars, and a range of music concerts by international stars including Usher, Pitbull, and Lil Wayne.
On Wednesday, the Kingdom is hosting the Diriyah Tennis Cup, the first professional tennis tournament ever to be staged in Saudi Arabia.