Whether it is coping with a racehorse galloping off with her at speed, or accepting her position as a flag-bearer for British Muslim women, Khadijah Mellah is taking it all in her stride.
‘I love surprising people,’ she says with an assured smile.
And surprise people this 18-year-old from Peckham most certainly will, when she walks out of the weighing room at Glorious Goodwood in just under a fortnight to take part in the Magnolia Cup, a ladies-only charity race alongside the likes of Victoria Pendleton.
Teenage Muslim Khadijah Mellah will race in the Magnolia Cup, a ladies-only charity race
Though there are no official records, it is believed Khadijah may become the first person ever to ride in a race in Britain in a hijab.
Were it not for an inner-city riding school and a ‘horsey-mad girl’ with big ambitions, that may not have changed for a long while yet. But how does she feel about blazing a trail for British Muslim women?
‘Obviously getting up at 5.30 in the morning and sometimes sitting on a tricky horse is tough, but what motivates me is that at some point I might be a role model,’ she tells Sportsmail.
‘When I’m on Instagram and I look at people who are quite successful, I think, “Wow, they’ve done so much, they’re so much older”. I just want to one day be someone who someone looks up to and thinks, ‘You know what, I can do that’.
‘I love it. I love surprising people. When I bump into people and they say, “What are you doing at the moment?” and I say, “I’m training to be a jockey”, they are like, ‘What?’
‘The first time I was riding up on the heath (the gallops in Newmarket), I got quite a few odd looks, not in a nasty way but just like, “Who is she? What is happening here?”
‘I feel like as long as I look like I know what I am doing, then it speaks for itself. Anyone can do it.’
Mellah will compete against celebrity riders including Olympic champion Victoria Pendleton
But she may not have done it without the help of Brixton’s Ebony Horse Club.
Khadijah, who has just completed her A-levels, grew up in the heart of Peckham, in a built-up area that can be a ‘bit scary’.
Her father, a handyman, had sat on a horse just once before, while her stay-at-home mum had never ridden.
She says people in her neighbourhood would not know what a jockey was if she tried to tell them what she was doing.
Yet a stroke of luck came when her family briefly moved to Sidcup, and she discovered a stable only a short walk away.
Mellah will be riding on a four-year-old horse called Haverland during the charity race
That introduction to riding had a lasting impact, but on moving back to Peckham the idea of keeping it up was seemingly unfeasible.
However, her mother saw a leaflet in a shop window advertising Ebony Horse Club where high-rise buildings give way to a riding school and stables for around 10 horses.
The Duchess of Cornwall has been president of the club since April 2009, and such is its popularity that when Khadijah signed up aged nine, it took two years to make it off the waiting list. Yet, she has since become a competent rider, and in February Ebony’s manager David Fleming convinced her to take part in the Magnolia Cup.
The task ahead quickly became clear. A major step was moving from placid riding school ponies on to flighty thoroughbreds, and her first time riding out gave her a good idea of how tough that would be.
‘It didn’t go too well, to be fair,’ she says. ‘I went too fast and overtook a couple of people. I didn’t realise racehorses were that fast. It should have really occurred to me.’
Mellah had to wait two years on a waiting list before becoming a member at Ebony Horse Club
Trying to control half a ton of racehorse has required different muscles to the Ebony plod-alongs, and she now jokes: ‘I don’t think I even had thigh muscles before now!’
Yet perhaps more gruelling than changing her riding style was passing the British Racing School’s fitness test, which she had to train for while revising for exams and observing Ramadan.
How did she find the bleep test, the squat tests, the riding a finish on a static horse, the press-up holds and the planks? ‘It was brutal!’ she replies quickly.
In the build-up to the big day, Khadijah has been riding out every morning with trainer Charlie Fellowes, and has developed a good relationship with her horse for the race – a four-year-old called Haverland, who she describes as a ‘calm guy’.
Her technique has drawn high praise from Royal Ascot-winning jockey Hayley Turner, who told her, ‘You look tidier than I do’, when they trained together on mechanical horses.
Mellah first discovered horse riding when her family moved to live near a stable in Sidcup
Yet little will have prepared Khadijah for Goodwood, when she will be presented to the 25,000-strong Ladies’ Day crowd alongside 11 other amateurs, including Olympic champion cyclist turned Cheltenham Festival jockey Pendleton.
Millions more will be shown highlights of the race on ITV, while her story is also being made into a documentary – Riding A Dream – which will be aired later this year. The documentary has been co-produced by ITV racing presenter Oli Bell, who admits it says a lot about British society, not just racing, that her participation in