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Horse power: Riding helps disabled Gazan teen build confidence

Despite having a prosthetic leg, Palestinian Hiba Shaheen continues to attend riding courses with ambition to enter international competitions

In an equestrian club in west Gaza, 17-year-old Hiba Shaheen is checking her horse's reins and stirrups to make sure her prosthetic foot doesn't slide out while she practices her jumps. After she mounts her horse, which she named Speedo, Shaheen wears her protective helmet and makes sure her foot is placed correctly in the stirrups.

Shaheen was born in the Gaza Strip with a rare birth defect meaning she was born without half of her leg. Her mother, Taghreed, said condition affects one in 200 children.

Shaheen began horse riding when she was eight years old with the full support of her family. She defies her disability by participating in practices that her coach says requires a great deal of will and confidence.

In addition to horse riding, Shaheen has learned to play the guitar, dance the traditional Palestinian dance, Dabkeh, and swims.

Horse riding has increased my confidence in myself and helped me overcome all the social challenges that most people with disabilities face

Shaheen said.

"Horse riding requires a lot of courage and this is only found in those who have confidence in themselves and are able to overcome fear, shyness and hesitation."

Shaheen's prosthetic leg remains uncovered while she practices and she ignores the stares of others, which she says sometimes "show pity". She said that she wore her first prosthetic at eight months.

Read: Initiative aims to make Gaza disabled friendly

"I am often criticised by others on social media and in person, but I ignore their comments and continue to work to achieve my goals," she said, adding,

Ambition and psychological wellness are two important things people must possess in order to achieve their dreams.

Shaheen hopes to participate in international horse riding competitions outside of the Gaza Strip.

According to statistics issued by the Ministry of Social Affairs in Palestine, nearly 2.5 per cent of Gaza's inhabitants have disabilities. The ministry noted that the Israeli blockade that has been imposed on Gaza since 2007 increases the suffering of those with disabilities.

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