JEDDAH: Racehorses often face years of neglect or even abandonment when their track careers come to an end, but in the family stables of Alyaa Al-Sharif, these majestic animals are promised love, care and protection.
Al-Sharif, who has spent his life around horses and trained as a jumper for seven years, spreads his message of animal welfare and ethical training through the Rise Equine initiative.
“If I hadn’t taken in these horses, they would have stayed in their stables, completely abandoned,” the 22-year-old trainer told Arab News.
I grew up with racehorses all around and saw how horses are left behind after their racing careers.
During her time as a jumper, Al-Sharif enjoyed connecting with horses that were taken off the track.
“I always came back to the horses. Sometimes they were a bit hard to ride and I would fall a lot, but I still kept trying,” she said.
“I come from a family that specializes in horse breeding and racing inside and outside the Kingdom. I grew up with racehorses all around and saw how horses are left behind after their racing careers. Some don’t get the treatment they deserve.
When Al-Sharif turned 18, she took matters into her own hands. “There were a lot of people who disagreed with that, but a lot of others would tell you to do mean things,” she said.
“When I first encountered behavioral problems with my horses, I didn’t know where to turn. Most of the advice was to hit them or yell at them. People told me I was too emotional. On the contrary, a horse that was not afraid of me worked better with me.
The Arab News team has seen with their own eyes how horses can reach their potential. The animals in Al-Sharif’s care run free, eat, play and roll on the grass with the cold breeze of a Jeddah winter blowing through their manes.
Al-Sharif holds a degree in equine psychology, but said even before she started her studies she was aware that horses were often abused.
However, she was fortunate to be trained by “conscious” trainers who helped her develop her own perspective on how to deal with horses.
The young trainer works hard to do everything she can for the majestic creatures. She trains people to ride their horses ethically, without fear or intimidation.
“I try to understand how horses think. Horses are prey and their first instinct is to protect themselves, not curiosity. I try to make a change and help them be curious by eliminating fear.
Mariyah Mousa, a 22-year-old university student whom Al-Sharif is teaching to ride a horse, said the first thing other trainers would do was whip her.
“It didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t feel comfortable hitting a horse. The horse was acting because of a mistake I was making, and it didn’t make sense for me to hit a horse for my mistakes,” she said.
Al-Sharif, who often acts as a wealth of knowledge on the subject, helped Mousa connect with horses in a way his other riding lessons lacked.
The trainer said she was using positive reinforcement instead of punishing a horse for allegedly misbehaving. Al-Sharif rewards animals when they cooperate, showing them what to do instead of what not to do.
Al-Sharif’s journey as an ethical trainer began with a three-year-old mare whose performance on the racetrack was deemed poor.
“I did the groundwork for her, how to desensitize and how not to be afraid of external stimuli. After her, I had the opportunity to get eight horses off the track. It was demanding but rewarding. »
Al-Sharif is proud to see how far these horses progress.
“I faced a lot of problems with their health. Some were aggressive and scary to deal with. I’m glad I found ways to handle this. Another thing that makes me really happy is how much it resonates with people. Many people agree with my cause and agree to help and support animal rights. It makes all my efforts worthwhile.
Al-Sharif’s goal in the future is to do the best for abandoned horses and also to establish a center to help people with behavioral problems with their horses.
She hopes the center will become “a hub for horse riding and gain people’s trust in their horses”.
Al-Sharif believes in educating people about horses and offers workshops dedicated to solving a variety of common behavioral issues.
Joanne Milyani, also present at the site, learned to let go of her fear of horses through the teaching of Al-Sharif.
“I’m very proud of her,” Milyani told Arab News. “She took me to the stables and told me that horses don’t just bite, but only because they want to express their feelings. Understanding them helped me overcome my fear.
She added: “The only thing I want to say to people who are scared is that the horse doesn’t want to hurt you or inflict pain on you.”
Al-Sharif urged people to do their own research and question traditional training methods.
“Just because it’s been happening (for a long time) doesn’t mean it’s the right thing,” she said.