Kiwi woman Sarah Collins made history last month by winning the first official camel race for women in the UAE at Al Marmoom Racetrack in Dubai.
Collins was one of eight female jockeys to pass Dubai Camel Racing Society’s licensing assessment, which allows them to compete in the championship race – the first of a flat-race series that will continue through to April next year. The jockeys hail from New Zealand, Germany, Poland, Russia and Ireland.
“It’s like riding a bullet,” says Collins, describing the race in which camels reach speeds of up to 45 kilometres per hour over a 1,200-metre course. “It’s the closest I’ve come to flying on land. I felt very honoured to cross that finish line in first place.”
Collins says the race was monumental as it proved to predominantly male jockeys, farm owners, sponsors and trainers that women deserve their own championship race series in the centuries-old Emirati sport. “For me, this was more important than winning. Even now, when we are training, our male peers will stare and [film] us because they have never seen women race camels before.
“The pressure to prove ourselves outweighed any competitive angle and, more importantly, we gained a level of respect that we hadn’t received before.”
At the start of the race, camels are tied to a bar with a canvas sheet in front of them, Collins explains. “When the race is ready to start, there is no warning or countdown. The race starter pushes a button, and the camels are automatically unhooked from the bar as the canvas sheet is pulled over their heads.
“This is one of the most dangerous parts of the race because as soon as the canvas lifts, the camels take off. Jockeys have to keep really low otherwise the bar will knock you backwards.”
Collins owes her victory to speed-training on camels at least three times every week. A competitive horse rider in New Zealand, she moved to Dubai in 2018 to work as a primary school teacher at the Australian International School in Sharjah. Collins also competes monthly in the UAE’s Tough Mudder obstacle races and regularly enjoys scuba diving, bouldering, and pole dancing in addition to horse riding.
Her camel racing journey began when she met Linda Krockenberger, a German who had partnered with Emirati camel farm owner Obaid Bin Subaih Al Falasi to open the Arabian Desert Camel Riding Centre to teach men, women and children how to ride, handle and race camels.
Collins joined the school in May. “I had always wanted to learn how to ride a camel properly, to gallop on a camel, but I never dreamt I would make history by winning the first-ever licensed female race.
“At the start, I was put on a lead like everyone else for their first camel ride and learnt how to trot. Two sessions later, I did my trot speed test where you have to show you are able to keep your seat and control the camel at 20kph, which is very difficult.
“After passing that test, I was allowed my first gallop, which was possibly one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life,” Collins says. “After that the possibility of forming a racing series became stronger and with more women showing an interest, it became a reality.”
In July, Collins graduated to become a guide and instructor at the school and helped train race camels for the first female championship series in the UAE. Camel races are fun, raucous events as spectators and owners drive alongside the racetrack, beeping their horns and banging the sides of their SUVs.
With no plans for now to return to New Zealand, Collins describes living in the UAE as “an amazing experience”, citing a great work-life balance. “The Emirates are accepting of different cultures and, as a woman, I feel safer walking down the street at night here than anywhere else in the world.”