I’m just a person doing what she loves’: Muslim rider calls for more minorities to try riding

  • A Muslim rider who has always felt welcome in the horse world wants to encourage more BAME people to try the sport she loves.

    Noori Husain, who fits riding and competing her shared horse Joy round her work as a junior doctor in Oxford, told H&H her experience in the horse world has been “overwhelmingly positive”.

    She has been the only Asian person at events on many occasions, says she has been told her headscarf would not be allowed as part of show wear, or asked if she is going to take it off, but says she has never felt excluded, and “feels I am part of the equestrian community in my area”.

    “Having Joy has been the only thing that’s kept me going at times,” Noori said, adding that the long shifts she has worked as a junior doctor have been hard.

    Noori said she has always been interested in horses, and rode as a child in London. Her family then moved to Buckinghamshire and her lessons stopped.

    “I think some people were a bit put off; my mum also wears a headscarf,” she said. “I don’t know if people were being racist or unwelcoming, but I ended up not having lessons. Then I went to medical school and started volunteering for a Riding for the Disabled Association group.”

    This brought Noori back into the equestrian world and about a year later, a friend told her her aunt was looking for a sharer for Irish cob Joy.

    Picture by Andrew Redpath Photography

    After a couple of years to get back into the swing of riding, she started entering competitions again, including while she was fasting for Ramadan, and on occasion, changing into riding clothes at the hospital and going straight to a show after a night shift.

    Noori said riding has helped her unwind after stressful days at work, but she has sometimes felt the odd one out.

    “I’m Asian and wear a headscarf,” she said. “I don’t think anyone means anything unkindly but people do stare. I also don’t drink, and can’t eat anything on sale from the vans – and it smells so nice!

    “It’s a novelty to see someone who looks like me, and it takes longer for people to think I’m serious about things. People are really nice, but there are comments, like ‘are you sure you’re allowed to wear that?’ about the headscarf. I’m not offended but it would be good for people to realise it’s not a sport for just one type of person.”

    Noori said her family supports her riding — her mother has also ridden Joy — but she believes there is some associated stigma from some Asians.

    “It’s seen as quite an out-there thing to do,” she said. “You’re seen as very visible doing it, and a lot of young Muslim girls aren’t that into different types of sport.

    “I think Khadijah Mellah [who won the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood last year] is amazing and I’m so pleased to see another rider who wears a headscarf. It’s great there are different role models for young people — but Asian girls and other ethnic minorities shouldn’t feel put off if there aren’t many in their field.”

    Noori said it never occurred to her that she could not ride, despite the lack of BAME riders in general, but said she then felt extra pressure when she first competed, as she was the only non-white person present.

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    “I felt like if I did something stupid, people might think all Asian people ride like this,” she said. “Thankfully that hasn’t happened but I try to make it that it’s just me. I’m just a person doing what she loves – the more it’s made a big deal, the more it is one.

    “But it’s not only people in the equestrian world who need to change their mindset; BAME people need to encourage their children to explore different things, and know what’s out there.

    “Being part of the equestrian world is so much fun, and there’s so much people can do, it’s a shame if people feel it’s a world they can’t get into.”

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