Thailand is known on the world stage for many things – incredible food, stunning beaches, smiling people – but horseback riding is not one of them, until now.
After nearly a decade of building momentum in equestrian pursuits, 2019 marks a historical and exciting year for the sport of horseback riding in Thailand. From December 1-8 of this year, Thailand will be hosting the first ever FEI Asian Championship at the impressive Thai Polo and Equestrian Club in Pattaya, the largest multi-functional facility in SE Asia, just 150km outside of Bangkok. Riders from all over Asia will descend on the Kingdom. This competition is sanctioned for Asians only and will combine three disciplines: jumping, dressage and eventing. It is expected that more than 10 countries will be joining in the championships and over 80 horses are expected to participate. HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, who is an avid national rider, will represent Thailand. Challenging her and the other accomplished Thai riders are the number-one riders from China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and other Asian nations. “With the Princess competing on the national team for Thailand in this historic event, her vision to secure Thailand as a world-class equestrian destination will be realised,” said Harald Link, president of the Thailand Equestrian Federation, CEO of B.Grimm Group (the primary sponsor of the event), and co-owner of Thai Polo and Equestrian Club.
Link assured that all of the preparations will be attended to with the utmost care. Nunthinee Tanner, co-owner of Thai Polo and Equestrian Club and an accomplished rider herself, is the mastermind behind a massive facilities overhaul of the club. At her direction, a number of investments have been made to ensure world-class facilities and practice areas. The club boasts an on-site horse hospital with round-the-clock veterinary care, stabling for more than 250 horses and three full size polo fields. Her attention to detail, air of professionalism and lifetime of equestrian experience manifests itself at the Thai Polo and Equestrian Club. The venue previously hosted the 2007 SEA Games and the FEI Asia Eventing Championships in 2013 and 2017. With specific regards to this event, over 100 million baht will be spent to organise the championships, plus one million dollars to charter a plane that will transport horses from all over the world to Thailand. The jumping event tests the riders’ ability to clear a series of jumps. At this two-star event, the jumps will measure 1.4 metres. The riders’ scores are based on time and penalties, losing 4 points for every knocked down rail or jump. At this level, quite a few riders will have clean rounds and move to a jump-off where penalties are still assessed but riders are competing against the clock. The fastest/cleanest round is the winner and the height and spread of the jumps combined with the twists and turns of the course make for an exciting event.
Dressage is the ultimate test of training. Points are awarded based on execution of movements. Judges base those scores on quality of the movement, expression (does the horse do these movements with ease and grace), responsiveness to the rider and the aids that the rider gives, and overall obedience of the horse.
The goal is for a horse to be really round and “supple” and light movements should look effortless. The highest score wins. 10 points are possible for each movement yet 10s are rarely awarded. 8 is really a great score, and what most riders aim for; if you score an 80% overall on a dressage test, you are typically the best in class. Eventing is a combination of 3 things: dressage, cross country, and jumping. The dressage and jumping are the same as above, except that the degree of difficulty as compared to above isn’t quite as difficult. The format would be day 1 and day 2 of every horse/rider performing the same dressage test, day 3 is cross country, and day 4 is jumping. There are horse inspections before day 1 and 2 and before day 4 to ensure the horses are fit for competition. This is especially important before day 4 after a horse competes in cross country. This discipline takes a lot out of the horse, and ultimately that is the purpose of eventing: is your horse fit enough, well trained enough, and courageous enough to do all 3 things well. These horses are the true marathoners.
The Pan-American Games began in 1951 and the FEI European Championship in 1957 so it has been over 50 years since an equestrian event of this magnitude has been launched but the Thailand Equestrian Federation and the Thai Polo and Equestrian Club are prepared. This two-star event will draw the most skilled riders from all over Asia to compete to be the first ever Asian Champions; riders from 15 countries are planning to attend. 7 medals will be awarded across the 3 disciplines.