Since the beginning of time, Arab women have unified families, grounding them with the pillars of faith and community. Now, marking the historic reunification of the GCC countries, royals from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE come together for the first time in four years, in our February issue, to show their people – and the world – that they are one. Below, meet UAE’s HH Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum, who is taking sports representation to new heights.
Winning team and individual silver medals for show jumping in the 2010 Asian Games in China, HH Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum is an exacting equestrian who keeps her eye on the ball. In 2003, at 18, she won the UAE Show Jumping Championship in Abu Dhabi; three years later, she participated in the Asian Games in Qatar as a member of the UAE team. “I was born in Dubai and riding runs in the family,” she shares. “In 2008, I competed in the Olympics – the highlight of my career!” To date, the equestrian champion has competed in four Asian Games, one World Equestrian Games, and the Summer Olympics in Beijing.
The niece of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, is a focused athlete who knows exactly what she wants. Becoming the first woman to represent the UAE in the Olympics is no small feat and she wears the distinction with honor, pride, and determination but also with great humility. “We have a love for horses in the family. It is in our blood,” she offers. “Only I chose show jumping, which is different from my relatives who play polo, endurance ride, and race. I love show jumping and working with the horses.”
Sheikha Latifa is dedicated to excellence. In her world, there is no place for error, mental nor physical. The training is rigorous – riding for several hours each day, both outdoors and in, along with daily weight conditioning – and her focus is impressive. “I love competing at a high level, but I really love the process of building horses. I enjoy getting horses that are young and inexperienced and building them up to the top level. That, for me, is so rewarding because it takes so much patience, so many years, and you have so many highs and lows. That is what I enjoy most about the sport.” When describing the process and work involved in producing a horse, the sense of collaboration between human and animal is remarkable. “The horses get to know you so well and you get to know them…. their ins and outs, all their weaknesses, and all of their strengths, and they know you as well. It takes so many years to build that trust, and for me, it is such a strong bond.”
Typically, the championship games are every four years. Her Highness follows the competitions and travels a great deal, spending half of the year in Dubai and summers in Europe, when the UAE weather becomes too hot to ride. She admits that the continuing travel limitations have been difficult to maneuver. “This past year has been very different for me. This is the first time in my life that I have spent the summer in Dubai. We’re used to competing, and I haven’t since February of last year. Everything was canceled in the UAE.” The competitions did start up again last month, but unfortunately, not for Sheikha Latifa. “I had an accident in November. I fell off my horse and had a small fracture. I can’t compete at the moment as I need to let it heal.” Without any sense of hesitation, Sheikha Latifa adds that she still rides every day. “I have no idea when I will compete again and I need to limit the risks. Jumping is a high risk sport, so I will wait it out.”
The conversation wanders back to her horses, of which she owns 11 at stables in Dubai and more near Deauville, France, where she considers breeding – the majority of her horses are Selles Français – to be best. “The grass is better and you are able to go out in the fields, which is important for their growth and bones,” she offers. “We don’t really breed show jumping horses here as they don’t come out as strong,” she comments of her arid home turf. And while, as of late, she is very much at home in the UAE, her outlook remains international. With regards to the historic steps of unity being made in the GCC now, Sheikha Latifa says that personally, things are not that different for her. “I have friends from all over the world, especially in show jumping. It’s a small community and friends are from everywhere. We all come together and we compete. There can be more than 30 nationalities in one competition. I am used to this and especially in the UAE.” Sheikha Latifa is living proof of where commitment and dedication can take you. Despite the setbacks of her recent accident, she will be back competing as soon as possible. The conversation concludes with a laugh as she adds, “At least I ended the year with a bang!”
Originally published in the February 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia
Photography: Sandra Chidiac
Style: Katie Trotter
Hair and makeup: Michel Kiwarkis
Junior fashion editor: Mohammed Hazem Rezq
Assistant photographer: Fiel Concoles
Location: The Sharjah Equestrian & Racing Club
Creative producer: Laura Prior
Production and picture editor: Ankita Chandra