Singapore rider Janine Khoo won individual gold in the showjumping at the Southeast Asian Games at the Wunna Theikdi Equestrian Centre in Myanmar, her country’s first gold in the event since 1995.
Khoo, 16, ride CP Safari to two clear rounds to win gold ahead of Thailand’s Jaruporn Limpati in silver, with Indonesia’s Jendry Palandeng taking out the bronze medal.
All horses were drawn in a ballot and Khoo said she was fortunate to have drawn CP Safari. “We’re a good fit. He’s competitive like me and we work well together.”
She said that although her horse was tired, having already competed in dressage at the Games as did most of the other horses, he seemed “much happier in jumping,” having more experience in that discipline.
The individual competition began more like a rodeo than an equestrian event, when Indonesia’s Andry Prasetyono thrown by his horse at the triple combination. Bucking around the arena, Fast Track – his charge – was hard to rein under control.
“Perhaps he lost confidence in his first jump and wasn’t set up for it, because he has done well before and is in the top 20 horses of the event, otherwise he wouldn’t be here,” Susanne Cunningham, the president of the appeals committee of the SEA Games, said.
With most of the horses imported from Australia for the Games, they only had a few weeks to get used to the new environment, and the riders only had a couple of days to familiarize themselves with the horses each country got through a draw.
Singapore coach Roy Ibrahim said that while the horses were jumping 1.10m obstacles, some of them are used to jumping 1.50m in Australia.
“But, it all depends on the level of the horse. Our rider Catherine Chew is competing on Ruby, a rather inexperienced horse that is more used to cross-country, where they jump over big solid logs, not fences like here. So we had to figure out in a short time how to bring the best out in her in the combinations,” Ibrahim said, adding the horses were experienced at mainly junior level events.
Chew, an experienced rider, boosted Ruby’s confidence with clear signals, placing fourth in the event.
Indonesia narrowly lost out on silver in a jump-off against Thailand, but had prepared well, according to coach Adi Katompo.
“I closely watched all the horses in the previous events and took notes, and when we got Gunderman in the draw, I knew I had to relax him. He had been fighting against his Cambodian rider in dressage because he is sensitive in the mouth and has a sore back.”
Katompo changed the mouthpiece to a soft rubber one and used a rein in training to guide Gunderman to lower his head, which led him to stretch his back and relax it. “That helped him, and also our rider Jendry Palandeng is a calm, confident person who connects quickly with horses,” he said.
While all three Cambodian riders may have been eliminated in the first round, coach Kathleen Marie Lovatt from Britain explained Cambodia had not competed in equestrian since the 1950s, and her protégés have come far and overcame the most difficult circumstances.
Three of the six riders are from disadvantaged families, and “got free riding lessons at the Cambodian Country Club in Phnom Penh as part of the ‘Horse Future’ program that was initiated by my predecessor at the riding school there, a French lady who was manager,” she explained.
The kids were selected by local NGOs, most prominently Hollywood star Angelina Jolie’s Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, which uses the prospect of learning horse riding as a reward and enticement for the children they look after.
“They came once a week for lessons and some of them were really talented. Then, in June 2012, I got approached by the Myanmar equestrian federation if we could put together a team for the SEA Games,” she said.
They stepped up the training for jumping and dressage from once a week to twice a week. However, due to a shortage of horses, they were only able in the last six months before the Games to train four times, Lovatt said of the rocky, but highly satisfying, road to Nay Pyi Taw.
Cambodian rider Narith Sim, a former Maddox protégé, has been riding for seven years and left his home country for the first time only a few months ago to gain experience in a couple of Asian events.
“I am so happy to be here now, because I want to compete more and like meeting new people,” said the 19-year old.
Teammate Sor Puthminea said he wants to work on his technique, adding he only started riding four years ago at age 16 and was a stable help at the country club beforehand.
“They can really be proud of themselves and what they have achieved,” Lovatt said.
On Tuesday Indonesia won the team gold medal with 20 penalty points, with Myanmar taking silver with 24 and Thailand in bronze position with 28 penalties.
Malaysia, which had already won gold medals in team and individual endurance and individual dressage, finished fourth, with 32 penalties.