Sunday, November 13, 2011


Written by Lulu Kyriacou

Riding in Thailand is becoming a growing industry. The number of riders increases daily and there is huge interest in the progress of international eventer Nina Ligon, who currently trains in the USA, and the forthcoming South East Asian Games, soon to be held in Indonesia. The number of FEI registered riders is 113, of which 41 are jumping, 27 are eventing and 17 are registered as dressage. Endurance is also quite popular with 33 riders registered, that sport having quite a following in Asia generally. Of those riders currently 69 are men while 44 are female. However the show jumping team may well be unique amongst international teams as it is fielding four female riders!

This week their eventing star rider Nina Ligon met the Minimum Eligibility Requirement (“MER”) for the 2012 Olympic Games at the Galway CCI*** in the USA with Jazz King.

Nina Ligon's Victory Lap in SEA Games 2007 after winning 2 gold medals from Eventing.

Recently, leading helmet manufacturer KEP Italia has decided to invest some time and energy in Thailand as well as much needed sponsorship. Thanks must also be expressed to the Thailand Equestrian Federation who also played a key role in this sponsorship. Together, they are providing the Thai Equestrian team with their protective hats for the South East Asian (“SEA”) Games 2011. The SEA Games start today while the equestrian disciplines take place 16 till 19 November 2011. Lelia Polini, the managing director of KEP Italia explained the company motives behind the move.

“For us it is not just about comfort and style but also about safety. There have been several occasions where a rider wearing our product has had a fall that resulted in the helmet being destroyed but they walked away and everytime that happens I am proud. We are not doing this to say we are the best but we will make whatever changes needed to improve our product so it suits riders need and situations. It is a constant dialogue between us all to find solutions.
As far as Thailand is concerned, I believe Asia is the future, there is a great spirit for riding there. I have recently also travelled to Shanghai and Hong Kong, and find this everywhere. They need only the education that the West take for granted. People do understand quality but have little experience in horses to know what to compare when looking for the right helmet, so they can choose between our product and another if they prefer. And while this happen's KEP Italia is proud to sponsor the team and contribute to it's safety and success.”

Thanaporn Chavatanont with KEP Italia - Thai Team Helmet

Thai equestrian history stems from the cavalry who still have their own competitions. There are many riding centres from Chiang Mai to Phuket and some of these clubs will even take their horses to shows for you to compete (for a fee of course) but that does mean that even without owning a horse yourself, you can begin to compete.

In terms of sponsorship, the contributors tend to be the same and from a small  group of local high net worth enthusiasts. One of the main sponsors of the TEF (Thai Equestrian Federation) is Maxwin, a local animal feed company owned by Thailand's richest man, Dhanin Chearavanont (according to Forbes Rich List). Maxwin is a subsidiary of the CP Group run by one of Dhanin's sons. Maxwin also sponsor a Thai eventing rider who trains in England with Australian dual gold medallist Andrew Hoy who has become the team trainer. That is starting to change though with the input from KEP Italia and also Cavalleria Toscana who sponsored at the Presidents' Cup.

Thailand is still so small so it is very difficult to make a business case for equestrian sponsorship but a small group of young people are trying to promote and increase awareness of horses as a potential sponsorship opportunity. There are Tor Chalermcharn and Nancy, who are behind the Horsemove Thailand website and Tor's brother Tent Pakin is a key man behind the scenes working at TEF to  organise the equestrian events. The two brothers tend to be the driving force behind the organisation of competitions. Not to mention local course designer Meng who can also be found in his spare time at the only tack shop in the centre of Bangkok (Trot Around) helping out. There has been some success: during the Presidents’ Cup for Showjumping and Dressage event which took place at the Horseshoe Point Equestrian Club from 30th September to 2nd October, there was a Charity Gala as well. A lovely framed Global Champions Tour shirt " worn by Edwina" and autographed photos of the Australian superstar were auctioned in aid of the "Able the Disabled Foundation" Riding for the Disabled programme. The foundation is chaired by owners of Horseshoe Point, Chaikiri Srifuengfung and Chanya Srifuengfung and the event raised THB500,000.00! 

"Fai" Munsika Piyavidtayakarn

Munsika Piyavidtayakarn (nickname Fai) is one of the young riders on the showjumping team. She started riding at 6 years old at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club (RBSC) located in the centre of Bangkok. She is now 18 years old. The RBSC is a place where many Thai residents and expats go for sports, recreation and horse riding. The club owns the horses and as a member of the club you can book lessons or just hack around the trotting track for an additional fee. The club also allows the possibility to take their horses to competition and they organise the transportation and team management for you. It allows people access to the sport without the expense and headache of keeping their own animals. Many riders start like this and then, when they want to take it seriously they buy a horse.

Fai started show jumping at 8 years old and still remembers the first horse she jumped "Tammy". Since then, she decided to really practice the sport and take her riding seriously, and in recent years has also ridden at the Horse Guard (part of the cavalry) where she schools and cares for a horse called Phanomtien. It is a thoroughbred and is one of the King's Parade horses. She schooled this horse herself and has trained it from 80cm and today she competes it up to 130cm. The horse is now the envy of the stable and many people would love to take the ride from her! She does this work at the Horse Guard as the horses at RBSC tend to be school horses and she wanted a challenge so she could gain more experience. The Horse Guard provides another outlet for her to practice the sport and just be with horses. Also at the Horse Guard, you must do everything for yourself because there are no grooms and she often spends her own money to buy things and care for Phanomtien to ensure he is in top condition.

In addition to her commitment at the Horse Guard, she now rides at a club called Trot Around Equestrian Centre where she is the very proud owner of a black Oldenberg gelding, 9 year old called Zaragazza. This is the horse she will take to the SEA Games to represent Thailand for the first time. Zaragazza is a real character..... quiet as a mouse at home and in the warm-up but the second he is in the ring he bucks and kicks like mad! The local judges are used to him and usually say “here comes the bucking bronco” but Fai does not seem to mind! She is also getting help from Andrew Hoy and being in the presence of greatness seems to have subdued Zaragazza somewhat; during a recent training session he only bucked once!

It has been Fai's dream to represent Thailand and her inspiration is a Swedish rider based in Bangkok called Helena Gabrielsson. Helena has competed at venues like Chantilly and won classes at CSI3* level in Europe. Thai children generally are not sporty and tend not to practice outdoor sports for fear of getting a tan as very dark skin is not so culturally desirable. So this kind of commitment, particularly from a girl, is a real sign of passion for the sport. Outside of the stables, she enjoys movies (Thai and Korean) and is partial to the odd Thai soap on TV. If this was not enough to fill her days, she is also currently studying for a Business Administration degree at ABAC University!

Fai wants to be a good rider and eventually she would like to train in Europe with the goal of being in the Olympics and potentially teaching riding herself. She saves her money to buy equipment and raises this money by collecting recyclables for sale. Her mother said that they pay for Fai's education 100 per cent, however only 50/50 for the horse and the sport, so Fai has to find ways to raise money herself.

Some things are the same the world over!


Press Release; Thai Equestrian and KEP 11.11.2011


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