An 18-year-old made history this week as the first jockey in Britain to race while wearing a hijab: and not only that, she won.
Khadijah Mellah is from Peckham, in south London, and got into horse-riding in her early teens at Ebony Horse Club in Brixton. The club is a charity aiming to encourage more young people to take part in equestrian sports and enjoy horse-riding, as well as providing mentorship and life skills.
A patron of the club and horse racing journalist, Oli Bell, arranged for Mellah to take part in a Goodwood race and she began intensive training just four months ago with mentorship from one of the UK’s most accomplished female jockeys, Hayley Turner.
She was racing against seasoned riders in the all-female race, the Magnolia Cup, which is held to raise money for charity and sees celebrities and famous sportswomen take part. A highlight of the season, the race opens Ladies' Day at the international event.
The history maker - WOW doesn't come close!— Goodwood Racecourse (@Goodwood_Races) August 1, 2019
Khadijah Mellah, an 18 year old Peckham teenager from @EbonyHorseClub not only became the first Briton to race in a hijab, she also went on to WIN the #MagnoliaCup today at #GloriousGoodwood racing in support of @WellbeingofWmen 👏 pic.twitter.com/Kt7jyeEjhI
Mellah and her horse, Haverland, won a close victory — edging in front a few strides from the finish line and beating the likes of professional event rider Sophie van der Merwe and Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton, who is now an amateur jockey.
Horse-racing isn’t exactly known for its diversity, and the accompanying costs of training (and even being a spectator) make it a tough world to break in to. So Mellah’s win is being hailed as historic.
The Muslim Women's Sport Foundation told the BBC the number of female British Muslim jockeys, past and present, is still in "single digits".
Mellah told the Guardian in an interview in July that she had always had an interest in horses but living in the city meant it was too far and expensive for her parents to take her out the countryside to practice.
When her Mum saw a leaflet in their local mosque advertising the Ebony Horse Club in Brixton she didn’t believe it at first. “I was like, yeah, Mum, sure. Absolutely no way… oh my God, there is!”
Following her win on Aug. 1, Mellah, who is planning to study mechanical engineering at university in September, was overwhelmed. She told reporters: “When I passed the person next to me, it was like ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening, I’m doing it.”
“Then I saw all the friends and family and I just started crying uncontrollably," added Mellah, whose story has hit headlines all around the world. "It’s been amazing.”
Now Mellah says she wants to be an inspiration to anyone else there who wants to get involved.
“Ambitious women can make it," she said. "That’s all I want to represent: be ambitious and do it. I’ve had so much support, and I can’t wait to see other stories of other women getting into the industry and doing amazing.”
Mellah’s hoping to continue training at university and get her jockey’s licence. So it sounds likely we’re going to see her blazing a trail in competitions for years to come.