QWhat inspired you to become a rider?
I have been riding since I was eight, but I started properly training in India back in 2015. And then in 2016 I went to Germany. I started competing last year in France. My last visit was to India. I think it’s genetic because my grand uncle and grandfather were in the mounted police. When we started, the only place we had for training was the Premadasa Riding School back in 2000. But that was only for general riding and the sessions weren’t aimed at show-jumping. Therefore if anybody wanted to train in a different discipline they had to go abroad.
QHow does show jumping differ from horse racing?
There are several disciplines when it comes to horses and sports. In racing, the entire aspect is different. In terms of Olympic sports there is show-jumping, dressage, vaulting and a few others. Show-jumping is where you need to clear jumps and not knock down any of the obstacles. Performance in 70% of these sports depends on the horse. If you have an inexperienced rider and a good horse, still the horse will do most of it, but you can’t always rely on the horse as well.
QAs you mentioned earlier, for show-jumping one has to train abroad. Tell us about the experience there.
My first visit to India was for 10 days, but in Germany the experience was totally different. There we had to work at a stable and the fact that they use hay in the stables, which we don’t do, gave me a new experience. It was more of a working experience. In France we could lease a horse and luckily for me the relationship with the horse was good because we made good connection. It was like an international clinic and riders from Indonesia, Australia and Honduras took part. The clinic was held under the guidance of coach Guillaume Marcotte and lasted for three weeks. In India, it wasn’t a clinic as such and I was training at the Embassy Riding School under Zeeshan Malik. The main competition was in Pondicherry and I was representing the Embassy International School since it was more like a club competition. There I was able to have two horses because it was cheaper than in France.
QTell us about the competition in France and the recent award you won in India?
They invited our Association in 2017 and it was the first time somebody won a competition under the SLEA banner. It was called ‘Haras de Jardy’ done by TM Equestrian Association. Previously there had been only one other person who represented Sri Lanka, but this was the first time a Sri Lankan won at the Pondicherry Equestrian Challenge, held recently. In France I came 1st in two of the 90 cm competitions and 5th in the 1 metre Grand Prix. In the Roubaix Jumping Estivales I came 28th in the 80 cm competition. I rode on BonsBaisers Du Rouge Clo. In India I won the 80 cm Table A Open Category competition on Caveman and came 3rd in the same competition on CassinaNagra. My other placings are; 4th in the Caveman 75 cm Table A Open Category competition and 5th in Cassina Nagra. I was unfortunately was eliminated in the 90 cm competition.
QWho is the best horse you have ridden so far?
So far I have ridden only three. Of the three one was BonsBaisers Du Rouge Clo from France and two others from India. In India there was a horse called Cassie and even after four weeks I still don’t know how to ride her. The fact that you can’t ride also teaches you a lot. There were two horses in India who were the total opposites of each other; one was strong and the other was sensitive. The beauty of this sport is that even if you don’t ride a horse you will learn a lot from each horse. However so far the French horse has been the best.
QHow is the scope for show-jumping in other countries?
If you look at Asia, countries such as India, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and China have show-jumping, but if they really want to make progress they have to go abroad. The problem in Sri Lanka is that nobody really does it and therefore there is no demand to develop the sport as well. However in India there is a demand for the sport and many people are making investments, which makes engaging in the sport a lot cheaper.
QWe still have facilities only for general riding. What are your comments?
Yes, we mainly focus on racing. Last year they put in a lot of money to bring in foreign marshals and trainers to develop racing, but in terms of other disciplines, such as show jumping and dressage, there’s not much exposure. We don’t have proper infrastructure nor space to practice. There is also a dearth of well-trained horses. We get down horses from India, but European horses are the best for these disciplines. In addition to that we don’t have experienced instructors and competitions in Sri Lanka. Therefore if individuals need to train or compete they need to go abroad.
QWhat challenges did you face when you initially started?
Expenses wise this is the most expensive sport and it is European-dominated. If you want to be a good show-jumper you need to go abroad, but you also need the money.
That’s the biggest challenge, but India now has a lot of people who are investing on this discipline.
You can train in India with half the cost you’ll need in Europe and in that way it’s much easier to train in India. Still the biggest challenge is obtaining a financial backing because once you are trained you need to compete as well.
QWhipping in horse races has raised concerns among animal rights activists. Is whipping a must in show jumping?
You can use a whip, but it’s safer than racing and there are more regulations. It’s not only about the speed and getting the horse to move faster. For instance if there is an over use of whips or spurs the riders get disqualified. Cruelty is not a part of the sport because there are many regulations against cruelty. I think less harm is caused to the horse when compared to racing. Most people think horse riding is a form of animal cruelty, but it’s no different from people training domestic animals not to litter in the house, sit or not bark. Animal welfare however is something that is looked into severely when it comes to the disciplines in horse riding. A distinction has to be made between training animals, which we all do, and animal cruelty. The benefits that sport horses enjoy are that there is more exposure, scrutiny and regulations when it comes to the well-being of the horse, advantages that pet dogs or cats might not receive.
QWhat is your message for the youth interested in show jumping?
If I’m able to progress and go far I would like to train those who are interested, especially in a country that doesn’t have adequate facilities and infrastructure. I think it’s about being more passionate about the sport. One really has to find his or her way in the sport if progress is to be made.