This week I’m chatting with international Small Tour dressage rider Mohamed J. Al Serkal. Based between The Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates, Mohamed and his horse Dynamite had been selected to represent the UAE in the 2023 Asian Games in China however, subsequent to this interview a decision has been made to withdraw Dynamite from the games to allow him time to recover fully from a recent problem. We wish Dynamite well on his road to a full recovery. As well as being a highly talented rider, Mohamed is also a member of the FEI G7 Dressage committee. Read on to discover more about Mohamed, his ambitions, and top tips for success
Tell us a little about you and your horsesMyself: My name is Mohamed J. Al Serkal, a thirty-four-year-old International Dressage rider representing the United Arab Emirates based between the Netherlands and the UAE. I am selected to compete at the upcoming Asian Games 2023 in China, it will be the UAE’s comeback to the Asian Games since 2010 in Dressage. I love everything about Dressage, the feeling I get when I ride, the communication and most importantly the connection you create with your horse. Dressage taught me to be patient. To persevere towards sometimes uncertainty but also hope. My horses:
- Eroza: a 15 year old KWPN mare by Dayano
- Oxford, a 4 year old KWPN gelding by Vitalis.
- Ristretto, a 2 year old stallion by Kjento and Royal Karim another 2 year old stallion by GLOCL’S King Karim.
- Kadet, an 8 year old KWPN mare by Sezuan
How did your horses come into your life?
- Eroza: I bought her during my training at Academy Bartels. She was competing in holland at ZZ-zwar level, I bought her in 2018, and unfortunately for us, although we kept trying but our connection was never there. I tried to bring her to different trainers, friends that could help me, but it never lasted, and we always fell to that lowest point of almost no return, so I made the decision to retire her.
- Oxford: I visited the EDS foal auction in 2019, not having in mind that I will purchase a foal, by the end of the auction, Oxford came in with his Mother, trotted and cantered around until he stopped in front of my table and I knew I had to get him, Oxford wasn’t the most interesting foal for buyers because his mother lacked predicates but I knew I had to get him, and so I did.
- Ristritto and Royal Karim: they were offered to me by their breeder for purchase, Equiciety and Kuwaiti owned run by my friend Fajer Al Sabah and her Husband Sabah Al Sabah. Lucky to own two Arab-bred KWPN dressage sport horses.
- Kadet was acquired by the Sharjah Equestrian and Riding Club for me to ride and train, she is one of the most interestingly difficult horses, it’s been a constant challenge with her but I have a gut feeling she will be special and that’s why I am determined to show her full potential.
When and where do you ride?I am based between the United Arab Emirates and The Netherlands. During my time in the Netherlands, I am based at Dominique Filion Stables located in Haringvliet. My horse Oxford is there as well. When I am back to the UAE, I am based at the Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club with Kadet as well as visiting other clients throughout Dubai.
How did you start riding?I was first introduced to horses in 1994 when we were vacationing in Vaals, the Netherlands. One day, I accompanied my father to my sister’s lesson, during that day the horse seemed a little fresh, he reared, and my sister fell off. I was shocked, and instantly frightened. The horse galloped towards the fence and jumped it, went to the fields. I could not imagine myself at that moment to be on a horse’s back. It was not until 2001, at twelve years old when my cousin convinced me to attend his jumping lesson and asked me to ride together. When I started riding, we directly were jumping, as no other discipline was practised or advertised. I never got the jumping rush, or adrenaline that other riders got, two years later after changing instructors, I recall being asked if I know what Dressage was? Of course, I didn’t, but wanted to know more, and as soon as she was explaining to me, I instantly felt that this is it, what I loved and what I wanted to do. I took a break from riding between 2008 – 2016 to focus on University then work, I did many things in between, working for FIFA, partially living in Venice, Italy working at the Biennale, involved in the arts, as well as different leadership programs in the USA and China, as well as being a published author by the age of twenty-five. It wasn’t until 2016, where I felt I needed to go back to Dressage, where I felt the happiest. I told myself, if I go back, I want to concentrate on having a professional career in the sport and eventually do it full time.
What are you and your horses currently working on?Oxford is currently in training with Dominique Filion, I would like to compete him during the summer (2023) in young horse classes. The two young stallions (Ristretto and Royal Karim) will stay in the field for another year. Kadet will be in training and prepared for the UAE season 2023-2024 I hope to compete her at medium – advance medium level. I am also preparing to compete at the upcoming Asian Games with a leased horse from Dominique Filion stable. We prepared the international shows which will be mainly between the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Of course, we will also compete at weekend national shows in The Netherlands as well. It will be a busy, but exciting summer to come.
What do you love about riding?It is the one place I feel completely centred. I am moving but relaxed, I get challenged but rewarded at the same time. It taught me patience, keeps me grounded and grateful. I focus on connection and not the luxuries of life. The best part is when your done and you pat your horse, give it a sugar cube, and see directly into their eye, you are reminded that they will do everything for you, always.
What you would you like to be doing in the future and do you have any goals?My ultimate goal or how I envision my future would be to be a successful Grand Prix rider, and I have a plan or a path I’m currently working on to reach there. I plan after the Asian Games to focus on big tour while still competing at small tour. There are some shows or venues I would like to compete at, which are:
- CDI Al Shaqab 5* in Qatar – Being an Arab, to compete at a venue like this, at part of the world I was born is an honour and dream, which I’ll make happen. Following the footsteps of my friend, Wejdan Al Malki, the first Grand Prix Dressage rider from Qatar who competed at Al Shaqab in 2022, and 2023.
- CHIO Aachen – The first time I was seeing Grand Prix live was here, at this venue, seeing Isabell Werth and Bella rose, I was and still am in love. I knew I wanted to be here competing one day.
- FEI World Cup 2024 in Riyadh – For the first time the WC finals will be in the middle east, this is a goal of every Arab athlete to try and be there, and that’s what I’ll do.
Have you ever had to deal with nerves in riding?Yes, but mainly in competitions, I believe it is natural to be nervous when you compete, there is a lot of adrenaline, from you, from your horse, from the crowd and not to mention those judges looking at you for more than 5 minutes and the occasional weather fluctuations, however slightly or considerably more, it comes down to how you decide to deal with those nerves. This sport is all about being mentally fit, focussed and being emotionally able to reduce that inside noise and not lose your feeling, while managing to do a test in these sometimes-difficult circumstances. How you deal with your nerves determines how successful a rider you can be.
How do you deal with them?Here are some of the things I would do before a show, which help me control these nerves:
- Several breathing and stretching exercises.
- Depending on the day, I choose my music, but usually will be atmospheric classical piano playlist.
- I practice my test on foot.
- Before getting on the horse, I would read some excerpts from the Quran (our Holy book) that keep me calm.
Your Top TipListen to your gut feeling, if it doesn’t feel right, your probably on the right path.
Down the Centre Line
Who would be your dream horse to ride?Valencia AS currently ridden by Fabienne Muller-Lutkemeier. This upcoming Grand Prix mare is mesmerizing to watch, her passage makes me speechless. A dream to ride and train a horse like this.
Who is your equestrian hero?I would definitely say Isabell Werth, I think she can sit on any horse and make it Grand Prix. She is approachable, honest and you can see her emotions on every ride. I admire her commitment, the love she has for her horses but also, she is always confident.
If you could have 5 people to dinner, who would they be?
- My grandmother who passed away in 2008, also my main source of inspiration, she taught me the importance of being patient, loving and caring towards people. She is the main pillar that continuously exists in our family. I continue to be strong during some hard times because of what she would say to me. Although I’m not sure if she would sit throughout the whole dinner If my mother wasn’t there.
- I would like to speak to Reiner Klimke, to learn from him, understand more about the decisions he took when riding and rational behind them.
- Our president HH Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, because I would like to involve him in our discussion about Dressage in the GCC and especially in the UAE.
- My brother Marwan would be a great guest, he would make conversations, create a dialogue where all of us will be involved but most importantly I would like to introduce him more into my lifestyle, my horses and trust that this path is the right one for me.
- Conan O’Brien would definitely make the dinner entertaining, I think he will add a lot of laughter and joy around the table, although I’m not sure if my grandmother would approve of his jokes.