POSTED: August 16th 2010

First 'horse draw' means tough challenge for Youth Games medal rivals

Xu Zhengyang of China showing good form with equine partner Foxdale Villarni / SYOGOC-POOL/Duan Zhuoli
Xu Zhengyang of China showing good form with equine partner Foxdale Villarni / SYOGOC-POOL/Duan Zhuoli

NIKKI WICKS in Singapore / Sports Features Communications

SINGAPORE, Aug 16: Young equestrian competitors at the Singapore Youth Olympic Games are having only four days to gel with their horses before the start of the competition, following the first horse draw in Olympic-labelled equestrian history.

Months of anticipation for the young riders came to an end on Friday after they discovered which mounts they would partner. The YOG organising committee had broken new ground in deciding to procure and train the horses under the same trainers and draw the rider/horse pairings randomly.

Thirty-eight horses arrived in Singapore from Queensland, Australia back in July and are being housed at the new Turf Club Riding Centre.

Generally in mainstream equestrian events, horses are brought in by the riders who have forged close bonds with their mounts and the outcome of pairing horse and rider randomly is yet to be seen.

Most riders were pleasantly surprised about the quality of the horses they received in Friday's draw but wasted no time preparing as best as they can for the start of the competition.

"It's a really, really nice horse," said Zimbabwe rider Yara Hanssen of AP Akermanis. "I just need to learn to bunch him up a bit, which I'm sure I will be able to do, because the second day is always easier."

Eirin Bruheim from the US, who has little experience on borrowed horses, was thrilled about her 12-year-old Lenny Hays, saying: "He started a little bit fresh but he ended up being absolutely super. He's a really brave horse."

However it was not all smooth sailing. Argentina's Maria Victoria Paz had a fall on her maiden ride during the first morning of training.

Paz, 16, was unhurt when she attempted to turn her seven-year-old gelding Glen Haven Accolade too sharply and was thrown off in spectacular fashion in the Turf Club's main arena. After the tumble, which followed immediately after she had successfully negotiating a jump, Paz quickly returned to the saddle and completed the session.

She said: "When I was young - well I guess I still am young - but when I was really young I used to fall off horses all the time, it's just part of riding."

Richard Johnson, director of corporate communications at the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) said: "The horses have competed at all levels throughout Australia and are all at the same level and that's the exciting thing. Naturally they all have their own temperaments and styles but the challenge now is matching the rider with the horse and seeing what happens."

When asked how realistic it was for the young riders to form a workable bond in just four days, Johnson said there had been some positive early signs - "This is the first time this has happened like this in such a big event, we've been told it's going to work and so far the athletes are happy and we'll have to see what the results are."

Athletes are invited to spend around three hours each morning with their mounts, with one hour of training. There is also an afternoon slot available but staff at the stables said few had taken up the invitation.

To assist the horses with adjusting to their new environment, all the food has been shipped from Australia to keep them on the same diet they had become accustomed to and several of the grooms have also travelled to aid with the transition.

The horses will be a legacy from Singapore 2010 and the organising committee has plans to relocate them after the Games to local clubs and riding schools so that they will continue to play a part in raising the profile and standard of equestrian in Singapore.

The equestrian event starts on Wednesday with the first round of the team event in which 30 riders will be split in six continental teams.

Keywords · YOG · Youth Olympic Games · equestrian · Singapore Turf Club Riding Centre

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