Meet Rim Al-Attar. A 15-year-old girl from Malmö in Sweden on a very special mission. Rim wants to break down the prejudices in equestrian sports. In addition to being a skilled rider, Rim is also a Muslim and wears a headscarf. Rim believes that acceptance of human diversity is unfortunately small in the equestrian world. Something that she feels on her own body.
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“I got so tired of all the standards that exist in equestrian sports. The other day I was getting my horse ready. Suddenly I notice an elderly lady standing and staring at me. It did not feel like a positive look. A few moments later the lady comes up to me. She looks at me from head to toe and up again into my eyes. Then she opens her mouth and starts talking. How are you going to ride with that thing on your head? I think you have to take it off, otherwise it will be too hot, she says and stares almost into my soul”, Rim explains.
THE STABLE IS A SAFE HAVEN FROM PREJUDICE
15-year-old Rim Al-Attar had never ridden before she and her family out of sheer curiosity visited a stable in their hometown Malmö in Sweden. Since then, she has spent most of her time with the horses. The stable has become Rim’s sanctuary, where she can relax and be with her beloved horse.
“I have had a lot of problems at school, a lot of it because of my scarf. So, the stable has always been my safe haven. There I can just relax and take care of myself and the horse.”
“You cannot ride if you wear a veil. That’s what the unwritten rules say”
THE UNWRITTEN RULES
But even though the horses give Rim a safe space, she still stands out a lot compared to most other riders in the stable. This is because she is a Muslim and wears a headscarf.
“It annoys me that other people judge how you should look. There are many notions that you should be blonde with long hair, have a rich husband and also have equipment that costs a fortune. Then you should preferably be from Europe or other western countries. You cannot ride if you wear a veil. That’s what the unwritten rules say.”
Rim Al-Attar feels that especially older people in the riding environment have a hard time accepting that she is wearing a veil. Many people think that a veil does not belong in the equestrian sport. Often, she does not know what to say to the negative comments, but despite her young age, she wants to get rid of the prejudices. These unwritten rules degrade society little by little, she says on her blog.
“Sometimes I wish time could be rewound to the time where these unwritten rules were born. I wish one could erase the norms from society. People are looked down upon when they go against the standards that exist in sports, religion and culture,” emphasizes Rim.
“I do not have to be exactly like everyone else if I have to ride. I have the freedom to choose for myself.”
ANXIETY FROM NEGATIVE COMMENTS
“In the past, when someone mentioned my religion or my scarf, I got a lump in my throat and anxiety. I’m only 15 years old and that can be too much for me.”
Rim says that the same problem arose at school, where she was bullied, and there was not much help to get from her friends.
“It gets harder for me to communicate with my surroundings when people avoid me. They think I’m a bad person just because I have a scarf on my head.”
However, the negative looks and comments have had the positive effect that Rim Al-Attar now feels stronger, she says.
“I do not have to be exactly like everyone else when I ride. I have the freedom to choose for myself.”
Here the horses and the good stable friends have helped her further. These friendships mean everything to her. Where before she usually stood inside the boxes with the horses and cried, she now feels more secure and has some good friends who support her.
“The horses were always there for me. When I stood and cried with them, it was as if they were listening to me. You can talk to them even though it is not direct communication. I hugged them and that was all I needed.
“We must do what we love, because life is so very short“
MORE DIVERSITY IS NEEDED
It is not only other religions that should have more space in the stable, Rim Al-Attar believes. She thinks that there is generally not enough diversity in equestrian sports in Sweden.
“People need to be able to adapt to the fact that everyone is different. When there are several who are from the same culture and look alike, you stand out if you are different. I think equestrian sports should include more people. Not many people know, for example, that some riding schools offer free trial lessons. Maybe it will make more people feel welcome,” she says.
Rim’s message is therefore quite clear: “I do not want young people to sit at home and think about how they should look or feel out of place because they come from a particular area or country. We have to do what we love, because life is a really short.” A message that we should all learn from.
You can follow Rim Al-Attar on her Instagram account @Rimsridning.
If you have any questions for Rim, feel free to contact her on her Instagram, then she would love to answer any questions.