Follow Vogue Arabia

Sheikh Rashid bin Ahmad Al Maktoum on His Battle with Leukemia and Boosting Equestrian Careers with Wife Natalie Lankester

Dress, earrings, Valentino. Photo: Sam Rawadi

In the triumphant final stages of a heroic battle with leukemia, Sheikh Rashid bin Ahmad Al Maktoum and his wife Natalie Lankester are reappropriating their blossoming equestrian careers. 

Dress, CH Carolina Herrera; earrings, necklace, Boucheron. Photo: Sam Rawadi

For Sheikh Rashid bin Ahmad Al Maktoum and his wife Natalie Lankester, there isn’t a mountain high enough. Be it representing the UAE in the Asian Games in their respective equestrian disciplines – showjumping and dressage – or Sheikh Rashid’s current battle with leukemia. After two tumultuous years, the couple has emerged stronger than ever and ready to dominate the international equestrian circuit.

Photo: Sam Rawadi

The UAE royal family has long had a passion for horses. The country, known for its equine excellence, is also home to one of the most famous stables in the world, Godolphin, owned by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Sheikh Rashid, son of Sheikha Hessa bint Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum (the sister of Sheikh Mohammed), credits his sister, an Asian Games bronze and silver medalist, along with well-known rider Eric Levallois, for teaching him many of the fundamentals. At age 13, on a visit to Deauville to see his sister Sheikha Latifa, the royal rode for the first time and attempted showjumping soon after. In 2010, a stroke of luck got him an entry into the Asian Games. “I was competing in Europe at the time, and two days before the horses were due to quarantine in Aachen, Germany, I was asked by the UAE Equestrian and Racing Federation and Sheikha Latifa if I’d like to go. I immediately said yes. Within 48 hours, we were on our way,” recalls Sheikh Rashid. Together with his horse, Dubai’s Pride, they completed a clear round and helped the team win silver.

Blazer, pants, boots, Ralph Lauren; necklace, Messika. Photo: Sam Rawadi

Meanwhile, Lankester had also developed a love for riding at an early age. The equestrienne grew up in Shropshire, UK, and attended boarding school from the age of seven. “We’ve always had horses at home, and I was lucky enough to continue my love and passion for horses through my education by taking one of my first ponies to boarding school with me,” she says. “My grandmother was a dressage rider, and her guidance was what sort of pulled me towards dressage.” After completing her education, in 2010, she relocated to Dubai to be closer to her father, who was working there. At the time, she worked for a lighting design company before starting her own online retail pet shop and running it for six years.

Top, skirt, boots, Hermès. Photo: Sam Rawadi

The couple met through a common friend at the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club shortly after Lankester moved, and the two hit it off. “I think we first went for a ride around the polo fields together, and I had an Arabian horse at the time,” she reminisces. “I took a big water bottle with me in case she got thirsty,” adds the royal with a smile. In 2015, they married and welcomed Sheikha Hessa in 2016 and Sheikha Alia in 2019. Not long after Alia’s birth, the family was struck with tragedy when Sheikh Rashid was diagnosed with leukemia in November that year. “Our entire world was just thrown upside down. The diagnosis was overnight, and within 12 hours, we were on a plane to London for his treatment,” says Lankester. With Alia only nine-months-old and still breastfeeding and Hessa just shy of three, living in London for a few months was challenging. “I was being pulled in different directions – I was having to split myself between Rashid who obviously needed me immensely, and the girls. I was completely spinning. I couldn’t find myself at all. I didn’t know if I was going to get a phone call in the morning that he hadn’t woken up or the treatment was unsuccessful,” she adds. Still, she soldiered on. Aside from dealing with aggressive doses of chemotherapy, Sheikh Rashid was also grappling with depression. “I completely shut down at that moment – from my family, the world, and horses. I initially thought it was because I was tired, but I was going through depression,” he affirms. Lankester recalls him sleeping through most days and getting weaker. He refused to get out of bed or let the doctors come and kept the lights off all the time.

Dress, Saint Laurent; earrings, necklace, Chaumet. Photo: Sam Rawadi

Within three months, the family returned to Dubai, and Lankester got in touch with a psychiatrist, who put Sheikh Rashid on a high dose of antidepressants for a while. Meanwhile, Lankester began riding again, swiftly regaining stability in her life. The biggest takeaway from Sheikh Rashid’s turmoil was how important a strong support system could be. “The family atmosphere around me picked me up in ways I couldn’t imagine. If I wasn’t married and didn’t have my children, I would have voluntarily given up and refused treatment,” he says. “I feel that it’s important for people not to be scared or worried to talk about their illness – it’s more harmful if you keep it to yourself.”

Blazer, pants, shoes, Salvatore Ferragamo; earrings, necklace, watch, rings, Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo: Sam Rawadi

With the treatment almost complete, the couple looks forward to a bright future. “We’re stronger with each other now,” he smiles. “We’re not running between hospitals anymore. I’m going to take the longest summer vacation with my beautiful wife and kids,” he says excitedly. The coming year is filled with excitement for the family – with Sheikh Rashid trying out for the Paris 2024 Olympics qualifiers in January and Lankester representing the UAE in dressage at the 2022 Asian Games next September. “I asked my doctor if I can delay that last dose of chemotherapy until after the qualifiers, so it doesn’t affect my performance,” says Sheikh Rashid cheekily. After a two-year hiatus from riding due to his diagnosis, he and his horse, Casanova De Beaufour DXB, are back with a bang. The duo came 10th in November’s 2* Grand Prix in Al Ain, which he’s extremely pleased about. “I’m still not pushing him to his limit. I’m trying to keep him at this level and push him gradually – so when it’s time for the Olympic qualifiers, he’s at his peak,” says Sheikh Rashid of his horse.

Photo: Sam Rawadi

Lankester, too, returned to Dubai with her four warmblood horses after a winning streak at three Concours de Dressage International (CDI) competitions across France this summer. Her champion, Fürst Dance DXB, earned several top spots there and will also be her partner at the Asian Games next year. Training at such a high level naturally requires a lot of saddle time. The duo rides multiple horses at the crack of dawn for fours every morning, after which Lankester focuses on strength training or plays paddle tennis. Sheikh Rashid jokingly calls his wife a gym addict. “I need to be in the best shape I possibly can for the horses – the smallest asymmetry of my body affects them,” assures Lankester. In 2015, the couple started their own horse breeding program, DXB Horses. By combining top-performing showjumping and dressage horses, the program has bred many upcoming stars, and their brand is now well recognized in both the Middle East and Europe. Lankester explains that their main aim was to create their own bloodlines.

Top, skirt, Loro Piana; earrings, rings, Marli. Photo: Sam Rawadi

When it comes to their children, the couple raises their daughters in a blended-culture household, which they enjoy. “Obviously, being here, we’re a bit more rooted into Arab culture, but I also think we’ve sort of made our own mixed culture at home. We try to maintain both the European and the Arab traditions,” says Lankester. Whether it’s Ramadan, Eid, or Easter – they love celebrating them all. But more importantly, they’re focused on raising well-mannered children with good morals. As a family, they love spending time together – making pancakes in the morning, going on staycations, or just being out and about. The girls, too, enjoy being around horses and have their own ponies. “There are times when we’ve returned from the stables, and the girls want to go back,” adds Sheikh Rashid. “And they really love competitions – they get very disappointed with us, when we don’t get them their rosettes.”

Dress, choker, earrings, Dior. Photo: Sam Rawadi

Originally published in the December 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia 

Dress, shoes, earrings, Dior. Photo: Sam Rawadi

Style: Mohammad Hazem Rezq
Hair and makeup: Denny Clements
Photography assistant: Rana Shahzaib Abdul Jabbar
Makeup and hair assistant: Sabiha Perween
Styling assistant: Vaidehi Pal 

Read Next: How UAE’s Sheikha Latifa is Taking Sports Representation to New Heights

View All
Vogue Collection