Equestrian is a sport not familiar to most, and several may even find the game uninteresting to watch due to not understanding its mechanics. Equestrian is not just horses jumping around, however, but it is a sport that requires rigorous training and a sense of great responsibility.
For equestrian athletes and fans, what draws them into the sport is the combination of the beauty and ability one has in riding a horse, along with the skillful manipulation of the course. The sport is not like any other due to having a partner that entirely has a mind of its own. Having to be responsible for enhancing one’s individual skills is not the only factor needed to be a great equestrian athlete, but also training and communication with the horses. Although unknown to many Filipinos, the sport has been around the country for quite some time now.
To introduce the sport to the DLSU community, Lillian Tang (II, EED-ECED) talks about her passion for the sport and the struggles that come with it.
Where it all started
Growing up, Tang was already fond of animals, specifically dogs and horses. When travelling to places like Tagaytay and Baguio, the first thing the family would have to do is to take her horseback riding. “The first thing we have to do is to ride [a horse] or I will go ballistic. I would go crazy if we don’t ride first before doing anything else when we go to places like Tagaytay. That’s how much I really love to ride.”
Her passion for riding horses worried her mother and this was when she decided to send Tang to take horse riding lessons. “Because my mom was scared for my safety, she made me take lessons and I never stopped and so that’s how it happened.” It has been 13 years since then and her love for the sport has grown even bigger.
She started competing at age 10, but started learning at the young age of seven. Those three years before competing were used as her foundation, where she learned how to trot, canter, and control the horse. Tang had tried other sports like football, swimming, figure skating, and badminton, but she gave it all up to pursue riding.
Connecting with the horse
Unlike other sports where an athlete would train for hours each day to improve his or her play, an equestrian athlete would do all that, in addition to taking care of the horse they will use. Tang explains that these horses are also considered athletes. They also need to train everyday in order to stay fit or else they cannot perform. “Horses have muscles. Sometimes, if those muscles aren’t worked, they go back to square one. They’re also athletes, and there are things they can’t work themselves, so you have to work them for them.”
Connecting with your horse is definitely a taxing job, with Tang joking that horses are like women when they get their menstrual cycle. Their behavior can be okay for a moment when suddenly they start acting up. It usually is up to the rider to adjust to the attitude the horses have. “I think the best metaphor to describe it is a centaur, yung half-man and half-horse. That’s how I connect with my horse, I would feel as if the horse’s legs are my own.”
Tang admitted that even after being an equestrian athlete for nearly 13 years and a part of the Junior Philippine Team, she still cannot call herself a professional rider. “Every day, you’re just learning and learning. You’re learning more about your horse and she teaches you more things than you know.”
Salta, her fourth and current horse, has been with her for nearly three years now. Tang confesses that every time she trains with her, Salta always seems to bring something new to the table. The horses do not adjust to the rider, but rather, the other way around, and Tang has to deal with the new challenges Salta brings every time.
The sport in the country and its challenges
The sport is not very popular in the country because of the heavy demands of taking care of a horse. An investment is made on both the athlete and the horse. The horses in this sport are different from their counterparts in Baguio wherein the latter do not need equipment for competition such as shoes. The horses used in this sport need a stable, regular shampooing and brushing.
Since Tang is away most of the time because of school, she has a crew to take care of her horse, and of course she needs to pay them and pay other expenses. “I think it’s hard because it’s like you’re taking care of someone else. They’re not just pets, they’re your partner,” she shares.
Handling school requirements, extracurricular work with JEMA (The Junior Entrepreneurs’ Marketing Association), and her passion for riding is a very difficult thing to do. According to Tang, time management is vital.
She is not a recognized student-athlete in the University and does not receive benefits, as it does not have an equestrian varsity team. Furthermore, the fitness of her horse can also prove to be a challenge for tournaments. There is an upcoming tournament later in February 2017 in Manila Polo Club sponsored by FILA. Tang states that she is still undecided about competing, explaining, “My horses come first before my competitions because I started riding for the love of horses, not because I want to win.”
Advocating the sport
Tang encourages everyone to try equestrian as it gives riders a unique learning experience. From her involvement with the sport and working with her partner, Tang developed a sense of responsibility and initiative. She mentions that she would also like to advocate the sport, but currently has doubts because of its heavy demands, one of which is a passion for animals.
Furthermore, she also wants to start a movement to ban the kalesa because she values the safety of horses first before advocating the sport itself. As to those who are interested in getting into the sport but are scared of falling, Tang offers a few words of advice. “I think for, any sport in that matter, the only thing stopping yourself is you.”