Para dressage athlete’s dream was seven years in the making
Ahmed Sharbatly grew up as a horse lover, admiring their beauty, elegance and artistic movements. But never did he think he would take up the sport of Para equestrian.
“I have always been around horses since I was seven,” Sharbatly explained. “I loved to watch dressage but didn’t pursue it as it just wasn’t a big equestrian sport in my country. In Saudi Arabia, the biggest horse sports are jumping, racing or endurance.”
At the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics next year, Sharbatly will pursue what he thought was impossible as he looks to create history by becoming the first Arabian Para dressage rider at the Games. It will not be his first attempt though as four years before, he was in a similar situation – just one step away from realising his dream.
“I qualified for Rio 2016 too, but sadly my mare was injured just before the Games and we couldn’t go,” the grade V rider recalled.
His first steps into the Equestrian Park arena in Tokyo will be the culmination of a journey that began seven years ago. Inspired by his world-ranked cousin Abdulla, Sharbatly took part in a jumping contest in Great Britain (in 2013).
His dressage potential was spotted at the climax of the jumping competition – the jump off, where riders must complete a course in the fastest time.
“I had some sharp turns, and was holding the reins too tightly,” he reminisced.
“A lovely woman who was watching came to me afterwards and said, ‘You were riding very well but in the turns you were too tight on the reins’. I agreed but said there wasn’t anything I could do about that because I have palsy in my arm and it always happens.
“She then asked me if I’d heard of Para dressage. I said I hadn’t and she suggested that I explore it and get classified."
Over the last five years, Sharbatly has developed his skills in the dressage discipline, which is the expression of horse training. His growth has been closely observed by Great Britain’s multi-Paralympic, world and European champion, Natasha Baker.
“The thing that really shines through about Ahmed is just how much he has improved,” Baker said.
“When he started it’s fair to say he was pretty novice and scored in the 50s. But then he made a massive step up by around 10 points and is now consistently in the mid-60s to early 70s in his scores, which is a real breakthrough.
“It shows his commitment, dedication, passion and talent to our sport.”
While serving as a broadcast commentator, Baker remembered her remarks on his performance at the 2018 World Equestrian Games.
“I saw the massive jump up in his scores and was blown away. And there’s plenty more to come I’m sure,” continued Baker, who had been a broadcast commentator since 2017.
Sharbatly usually trains in the Netherlands but is back in Saudi Arabia to support his family-owned construction business through the COVID-19 pandemic. He hopes the passion for Para dressage in Europe will be felt one day at his home.
“I’m really happy to have qualified for Tokyo,” he said. “So I’m focussing on that and working with my federation to grow dressage in the Saudi Arabia.”