Jordanian Olympic show jumper Ibrahim Bisharat and his Kuwaiti fiancée, Aysha AlQaoud, are building a life together grounded in their two passions: horses and each other.
Originally printed in the September 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia.
Ibrahim Hani Bisharat, three-time Olympic show jumper from Jordan and his faithful stallion Chactino are in-between competitions. Following their participation at the annual Saut Hermès in March and the FEI World Cup Championship finals in April, both in Paris, they are now gearing up for this month’s FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) in North Carolina, US. Like the Olympic Games, the prestigious WEG occurs only once every four years. Bisharat shows no sign of nerves. Green eyes squinting, he runs his hands through swishing, silky blonde hair, twisting and crossing it until it becomes a tight plait. He is standing behind his fiancé, Kuwaiti Aysha AlQaoud, braiding her ponytail, while she laughs, recording it for an Instagram Story. It’s an intimate view of the couple’s playful and easy charisma, and one that makes even the biggest of love cynics smile.
AlQaoud – who has the wholesome, can’t-stop-staring beauty of a young Katherine Heigl – isn’t “just” the Olympian’s fiancée. She is an amateur show jumper herself. The two met at an Arab League competition in the Gulf. “Our families knew each other, and I have always known who Ibraham is,” admits AlQaoud, hinting at what was perhaps an early infatuation. During the ten-day-long competition, all the riders stayed at the same hotel and they dined together every night. That was more than two years ago; they have been together ever since. “He was funny – inappropriately funny,” she laughs. They seem to complete each other’s sentences, though Bisharat is very laid-back in his conversation while AlQaoud speaks quickly, with urgency. Their lives revolve around horses and each other, and when not traveling the world for Bisharat’s competitions, they will go to Paris. There, the Olympian accompanies his fiancée as she peruses Première Vision and Maison & Objet exhibition stands, on the lookout for fabrics for her burgeoning design initiative.
“My biggest dream is to start an equestrian athleisure apparel line. I’ve been thinking about it for years,” she says, adding that her professional and educational background is in interior design. “If I wake up in the morning and put on my riding clothes and then run an errand, I don’t want to always look like I just got off a horse,” she states, emphasizing the rider’s need for a less formal yet functional alternative to the usual breeches and jodhpurs outfit. As for her own competing aspirations, she offers, “My favorite thing is watching Ibrahim ride. I do love competing in my own category, but with Ibrahim, I’m around horses all the time, and I do feel like I’m ‘in it.’”
Life with Ibrahim is shared amid the airy, open spaces of the De Bredehoeve stables in Essen, Belgium. Western Europe is renowned for breeding and training show jumping horses like Hanoverian and Dutch Warmbloods – brave, strong, and skillful horses that won’t jerk at the sight of hurdle obstacles to be crossed in rapid succession. He moved there 12 years ago to manage the stables owned with his father, Hani Bisharat. Together, they train 32 horses and eight riders, with some clients staying at the stables the whole year round. “I love training,” says Bisharat. “To give someone information and see them learn from it, is very satisfying. Sometimes it can be a frustrating process, but overall, I like to see people improving,” he shares, adding with a wink that AlQaoud has improved a great deal under his tutelage. “She laughs a lot, but it puts a smile on my face.”
Business and riding have always been in the family. Bisharat’s father established The Arabian Horse Club in Jordan in 1983. Today, it hosts international jumping shows. He is also one of the first advocates to have a Jordanian team compete in world events. As his son’s biggest supporter, he has accompanied him to three Olympic Games and WEG shows as trainer and chef d’équipe, the team leader.
“The family used to say that I was riding a horse before I learned to walk. It was a very intensive immersion,” admits Bisharat. He almost didn’t become a show jumper, “I was crazy about cars – specifically go-karts – but my father always pushed me toward the horses. But I loved karting, the thrill of it. Maybe if I took it further I would have been in Formula 1, but at the same time that I was karting, I qualified for the Olympics, and at 20, I went to Athens.”
Now 34, Bisharat bares that his life has not been without hardship. He broke two vertebrae in a car accident at a young age and was bedridden for months. Recently, he suffered a torn muscle and admits to not feeling entirely comfortable in the saddle. “Hermès was the first show following the injury. It was a show to get ready for the World Cup,” he offers. “The injury is actually a blessing. You wake up and ride horses every day, sometimes you complain and take it for granted. Now, I’m more health-conscious and work to keep my body strong. But I’m blessed – even just to ride.” When Bisharat speaks of his horse, he does so with pride and affection. “The real athletes are the horses. You can think of them like humans. Each horse has a different character. Chactino is a stallion, but he is very relaxed, very mature for his age. He deals with things in a very cool-headed way.”
If horses and show jumping are a family affair, the love for the equestrian sport is shared by the Arab world and, particularly, Princess Haya bint Hussein, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and his wife Queen Alia. “When I started riding in Europe, Princess Haya supported me for nearly 10 years,” he says. The princess first noted Bisharat’s competitive skills at the 2006 WEG. Via her Team Harmony, her support helped introduce him internationally and, in turn, Bisharat garnered worldwide recognition for the team, most notably winning the Olympic qualification to London for the Arab League in 2012.
“I’m blessed with the people I have around me,” he nods. He also takes strength from his faith, and won’t hesitate to carry a few amulets for luck. “I say a prayer before every show,” he says. He points to his wrist. “Aysha and I both have infinity bracelets that we got in Mykonos, which we never remove.” A balance charm hangs from his neck. “I’ve been wearing it for years,” he says. AlQaoud twists her new engagement ring, its diamonds catch the light that bounces off her honey-colored eyes. Naturally, her heart gallops with love and excitement.
Photography: Domen / Van De Veld
Style: Lieve Gerrits
Makeup: Magdalena Loza for Nars and Balmain Hair Couture at House of Orange