South London native, Khadijah Mellah has become the first British Muslim woman jockey to compete in a horse race while wearing a hijab.
The 18-year-old from Peckham made most of her debut by winning the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood.
Mellah has admitted that she always loved a challenge and she is trying to balance her fame while studying at the University of Brighton.
“There is a stereotype that Muslim women can’t go out there and do certain things, but I was always someone who was really into horses,” said Mellah, speaking at the SJA British Sports Awards.”
“I also like physics, and I’ve been told that I could be quite good at it in terms of creative thinking, so my physics teacher was like, ‘You should definitely go for engineering’.”
“I was told to make sure I worked on my maths as maths isn’t my strong suit. There are some similarities between horse riding and physics; they’re both very challenging.”
“There are many hurdles you have to get over when doing physics before you can say, ‘I’m doing ok, I’m doing well’. And it’s the same thing with horses.”
The young girl has been riding racehorses for mere months before she steered Haverland to an unexpected victory for Charlie Fellowes.
Racing in South London seemed like a pipedream for Mellah before she persuaded her parents to take her to Brixton’s Ebony Horse Club.
“I just really loved horses, and I just kept searching for the right one,” she said.
“At one point I was like, yeah, I might share a horse in Bromley because I found one on Gumtree.”
“And then my dad was like, we’re not doing that, and I was like, ‘What’s the alternative?’ And then we found out about Ebony, and we thought, that’s the alternative. So that’s how we got involved.”
Mellah trained to be a jockey while she was fasting for Ramadan and successfully completed her A-levels in physics, design technology and maths.
The 18-year-old suffered several fails along the way, and she even failed her first assessment test at the British Racing School in Newmarket, only to line up on the big day against the likes of Olympian Victoria Pendleton.
However, despite her route towards the sport being unconventional, Mellah’s feel-good story has been immortalised by an ITV documentary – although this did not raise her profile at university.
“The people I live with didn’t know who I was so I did a reaction video of a newspaper cutting of me. It was really funny,” she said. “I’m hoping to start a YouTube channel to track my progress.”
Mellah was crowned the Sunday Times Young Sportswoman of the Year and has also trained in javelin and boxing before settling on steeds.
She is also looking forward to raising more money for charity after her victory supported the health charity Wellbeing For Women.
She added: “My brother’s going for his license, so I really want to do a charity race against my brother, or possibly a charity fundraiser, where it’s my team against my brother’s team.”