Teenage jockey sensation is used to overcoming hurdles in her everyday life.
Whether making history on a horse or studying mechanical engineering, teenage jockey sensation Khadijah Mellah is used to overcoming hurdles in her everyday life.
The South London native hit the headlines in August when she became the first British Muslim woman to ride in a horse race and the first jockey to compete wearing a hijab.
But not content with just breaking down barriers by simply competing, the 18-year-old from Peckham made the most of her debut by winning the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood.
And while her rise to stardom has been nothing short of stratospheric, Mellah admits she has always loved a challenge as she balances her newfound fame with her studies 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.”
Mellah had been riding racehorses for mere months before she steered Haverland to an utterly unexpected victory for Charlie Fellowes despite starting out as a 25-1 shot.
The daughter of a handyman, racing in South London seemed like a pipedream for Mellah before she persuaded her parents to bring 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 fasting for Ramadan and successfully taking her A-levels in maths, physics and design technology.
She suffered several falls along the way and 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.
And despite her route to the sport being somewhat unconventional, Mellah’s feelgood story has since been immortalised by an ITV documentary – not that it’s raised 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.”
Crowned the Sunday Times Young Sportswoman of the Year, Mellah also trained in javelin and boxing before settling on steeds – a decision she certainly does not regret.
Now counting the Duchess of Cornwall among her admirers, she is already looking forward to raising more money for charity after her victory supported 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.”