Back To The Future - How Rediscovering A Childhood Passion Taught Loretta Ahmed to Listen To Her Inner Voice

dubai horseriding leadership Jan 12, 2020

When you’re recognized as one of the Public Relations industry's top experts, featured in articles that talk about glass ceilings being shattered, and your Twitter account is in the top 5 of “twitter accounts that PR pros need to follow” many would say that you've truly made it.

In many ways, Loretta Ahmed, Founder and CEO at Dubai-based Houbara Communications has been “making it”, as she has built a 30+ year career in PR, brand and crisis communications. That, along with a happy marriage to entrepreneur Nad Ahmed and a beautiful daughter means she lives a full life in Dubai.

Yet, achieving - and sustaining - this level of success means a great deal of work and sacrifice. It can be tempting to keep driving through, working harder to achieve more, regardless of the cost to ourselves.

Even if we feel a pull to satisfy something deeper within ourselves, the further we go into our career, the harder it can become to “start again” or “rediscover” things we loved before. We worry that we may stumble, or it will cause discomfort. Or add to our already busy lives. And isn’t it selfish, to find and nourish a hobby that we love?

Yet, Loretta has done just that, with a recent re-discovery of a childhood passion - horses. Watching her daughter take horse-riding classes, Loretta felt a familiar flicker of love for a sport she had long left behind. She acted on that flicker, signed herself up for classes rediscovering a passion that she says, “has been a bit of a lifesaver” amidst her demanding business life. 

We caught up with Loretta to hear more about her journey.

Not only did all the memories of how to ride come flooding back but I found that my time in the saddle became a bit of a lifesaver. 

What is your first memory of horses?
My mother was a rider and I grew up with horses – I thought it was completely normal and didn’t appreciate how lucky I was. I hit my late teens and life took over. I didn't ride again until a couple of years ago. My daughter started having lessons and I would sit and watch her. In the arena next door, there was a riding teacher who reminded me so much of my old riding teacher from all those years ago. I plucked up the courage to book a lesson the following week and everything just snowballed.

I've rediscovered my love for horses and riding – it has been very special. Not only did all the memories of how to ride come flooding back but I found that my time in the saddle became a bit of a lifesaver. I own and run a marketing agency and it is all-consuming – but I learned to take a step back and have some time entirely for me. When you’re riding a horse, you have to be focused and in tune with your horse. And of course, I never take my cellphone with me so there are no emails, no messages, no calls – it’s like a digital detox and real food for the soul.

loretta horse 1.jpg

When did you start competing in dressage? What is it you love about it?
After a few months of lessons on the riding school horses, I had the opportunity to exercise Remi – a mare kept at livery at the yard. I went on to lease her and just a few months later, the owner decided to sell Remi. Well, of course, I had gone and fallen in love and couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else buying her, so I took the plunge and became a horse owner again – some thirty years on from the last time!  

The same riding teacher who I had started having lessons with encouraged me to do dressage. It’s a wonderful way to find harmony with your horse. The secret is to ride through different movements and paces with fluidity and ease – that takes balance, focus and great teamwork with your horse. It was a wonderful way to bond with Remi and I enjoyed the discipline of learning to ride well technically as well as memorizing the tests for competitions and coping with the pressure of being judged. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, which sounds odd after everything I’ve done in my career – but as a business leader, I think we all need that sometimes.

Dressage is a disciplined sport, with lots of hard work involved and little room for error. What has it taken to get to a point where you felt able to compete?
Lots and lots of practice and time with Remi. We’ve built up a very special connection. It has also taken confidence. The problem with riding when you’re older is you constantly think of the dangers! I flew around cross country courses as a young teen with no fear – and that all changed for me when I got back in the saddle. I needed time to gain confidence and it’s still something I struggle with sometimes. I was lucky to find a trainer that got me and understood Remi – I think she’s probably part therapist, part riding teacher! Every lesson is like therapy – after a bad day at the office, there is nothing like getting on Remi and conquering a new technique or just losing myself in the moment with her. 

You just won your first dressage competition. What type of preparation did it involve and what did it feel like to win?
I had been having lessons for over a year and we started to practice a few intro tests and I found I quite enjoyed it. Remi was ready and I had no expectations in terms of being placed. I just wanted to get through it and remember all the movements.  

Loretta in competition


When the scores were read out in reverse order I remember thinking how awkward it felt – I thought they had forgotten me – especially when they got to the top three. I was so, so proud of Remi when I found out we were placed first. It was a small training show in Dubai but I honestly felt like we’d just won gold in the Olympics together! She was treated with watermelon and apples that evening. I had told my husband not to bother coming as it was my first test and I just wanted to get through it and I remember calling him to share the news. 

Have you had any moments along the way where you’ve felt discouraged?
A few months ago I was hacking out and had a bad fall after Remi had an unexpected scare. She threw me and bolted back to the stables. It was such a shock but it was a reality check for me. You’re sitting on a lot of power and you have to make sure you are focused – on that occasion I wasn’t and she caught me out. Every situation like this is a lesson and I learned a lot from that fall. As a sport, it’s just one long endless learning journey and I think that’s why I love it so much. And like at work, I always tell the team it’s not a problem making mistakes, it means you’re pushing yourself - just learn from them and don’t get beaten by them.

You own a successful PR firm, with a team and ambitious plans. Pursuing this passion must have taken time in your week - how did you approach creating that time? Did you need to ask anything from your family or friends in the process?

 I think so many working mums try to do it all – we’re not that good at asking for help. At times I’ve felt rather selfish putting Remi and my riding passion first but I think we simply have to do it. Life is too short to ‘serve’ everyone else and my daughter has had to learn that I need some time for ‘me’ too.

It’s quite a lonely sport for some people, but as someone who is always surrounded by people, I think that’s one of the reasons it works for me. I’m fortunate to have my horse at livery which means she has a groom and is cared for every day, so I don’t have the worry of getting to the stables and can fit it in around my work/mum life well. I’ve always been an early riser and that’s pretty critical – I find the time from 5 am to 9 am the most enjoyable part of my day – if I get this time right the rest of the day goes better. So while everyone else is sleeping I’m out riding as the sun comes up and then I’m home, showered and checking emails with a hot coffee by 8 am. It has meant my husband has had to step up on the school runs but it’s made him feel more involved in our daughter’s school life. I think so many working mums try to do it all – we’re not that good at asking for help. At times I’ve felt rather selfish putting Remi and my riding passion first but I think we simply have to do it. Life is too short to ‘serve’ everyone else and my daughter has had to learn that I need some time for ‘me’ too. For my husband, I think he’s just happy that I’m happy – and I’m certainly happier now than I think I’ve ever been. I have something that I love so much that it stops me working 24/7 - no matter how much you love your work it’s just not sustainable or healthy to pour your whole life into it. I’ve finally learned that after over 30 years of doing just that.

What advice do you have for Passionados who want to reignite a long-lost passion - or start a new one?
Don’t put it off a day longer. Find it and do it. It might be yoga, it might be cookery or it may well be horse riding but find a passion that you can get lost in – one that consumes you – for an hour a week or a day a week – whatever it is just do it. I now have goals that don’t involve work and for me, that means I have more balance and positive energy when I’m in “work and mother” mode. I’ve always been the one that says “you can’t have it all.” I accepted that sacrifices have to be made to be a working mum or a successful businesswoman. But I had it all wrong all this time …

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