Mother and daughter equestrian duo still pushing limits and making history.
Along with sand blowing around from the wind, there’s a buzz in the air at Trio Ranch Country Club. Over the loudspeaker, an announcer calls on the next riders to climb on their horses and head to the course.
The few stands are filled, as they usually are for a show jumping competition. But there’s one special – and perhaps intimidating – person in the audience:Dalma Malhas.
Malhas, the first Saudi female to compete in an Olympics event, didn’t only make headlines for competing, but for taking home a bronze medal. When she made the podium in 2010 at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, she made history books too.
“I move around a lot, but this will always be home. It’s nice to come back to where it all started – kind of like a walk down memory lane,” said Malhas, on a brief trip to Jeddah, from her base in France.
In 1990, before Malhas was born, her mother Arwa Mutabagani opened Trio Ranch, one of Saudi’s first riding clubs.
As a young girl, Mutabagani spent summers riding in Europe, and when she returned home, she questioned why there wasn’t a proper riding club. So, with support from her parents, she opened the ranch. She also competed as a show jumper in Europe, despite many challenges.
Even today, show jumping competitions like this are a rare sight in Saudi Arabia, which is ironic, because as Mutabagani points out, Arabia is the land of horses.
“Arabian horses bred in this land. Horses are so important to our history. Arabs fought and commuted on them,” said Mutabagani.
Passing on the Passion
Malhas started lessons at age four. When her mom saw her potential, they moved to Europe, to not miss out on opportunities like Mutabagani did as a young Saudi female rider.
Mutabagani continued to manage Trio Ranch from afar, dedicated to giving young riders proper training and important life lessons.
“The sport is not only about horses. You need to have respect for horses and for the people who work with them. You have to be patient and disciplined, qualities also important for daily life,” said Mutabagani.
The Road to the Olympics
In 2008, Mutabagani was appointed the first female member of the Saudi Olympic Committee.
Two years later, emotional and wired with excitement, Mutabagani jumped up and down in a crowded audience as she watched her daughter win a bronze medal at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games.
“The greatest moment of my life is when Dalma won the bronze medal. History was made, and that was her day,” said Mutabagani.
Knowing it was her daughter’s day, she couldn’t help but share the pride.
“It was really my dream came true through her. I had the dream to participate in an Olympic event, but in my time, as a woman, that was impossible. For me, it was sort of my medal, through my daughter.”
Two years later at the 2012 London Olympics, Mutabagani made sports history once again, when she led the first ever group of Saudi females at an Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.
When Mutabagani and the two female athletes marched into the stadium, waving their green flags, the enthusiasm from the crowd put Mutabagani on a high.
The one disappointment was that her daughter couldn’t march with her, as an injured horse meant she couldn’t compete as she was supposed to.
More Hurdles to Jump Over
Mutabagani spends much of her time in Europe, focusing on another passion: breeding horses.
When asked her next goal, she jokes she still may make her Olympics dream come true, mentioning that the oldest Olympian to win a gold medal was 64.
A little more reserved, Malhas doesn’t reveal her own goals, but agrees that the Olympic Games is every athlete’s goal.
“It was an honor to represent my country,” said Malhas.
“As an athlete, during the whole journey, you try to recreate those moments – they are really special and what keeps you going.”
Another big driver for Malhas is her mother, who doesn’t only serve as a role model for her daughter, but all daughters in Saudi Arabia.
“Growing up with a reference point like her has helped me in so many ways. I’m really lucky to have her,” said Malhas.
Family Fun: Yearly memberships at Trio Ranch Country Club are available. In addition to riding, there’s a tennis court, basketball court, a cafe, and much more on site.
One of the secrets of Trio Ranch’s success is the emphasis on safety and proper training for riders and horses. Mutabagani, an official judge in Italy, brings in top trainers from Europe, along with specialized professionals like veterinarians, dentists, and chiropractors for the horses.
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