An equestrian princess

An equestrian princess

HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana talks about her love for horse riding in an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post

HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana (Photos courtesy of Thailand Equestrian Federation)
HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana (Photos courtesy of Thailand Equestrian Federation)

HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, the youngest daughter of HM the King, has passion and talent not only for fashion but also sports. Born in 1987, she is widely known as a fashion designer, a badminton player and an equestrian (dressage). To her, horse riding goes well with fashion in tastefulness and beauty.

The Princess began horse riding at the age of nine following in the footsteps of her elder sister HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha who excels at equestrian sports. Princess Sirivannavari started becoming serious about horse riding after training at the Royal Stable Unit in 2012. She developed good skills in three disciplines -- jumping, dressage and eventing. Although she loves jumping the most, like her royal sister does, she decided to emphasise dressage as suggested by the Royal Stable Unit, which cited safety and aesthetic reasons.

Later, she expressed her strong will to become an equestrian athlete and was thus advised by the unit to attend dressage courses at the International Moniteur d'equitation, Le Cadre Noir de Saumur, in France, during 2012-2014. From 2014-2018, she took several dressage courses at the medium to Prix St George levels in France.

The Princess has continually participated in various international horse trainings and competitions across Europe and taken coaching courses as part of the FEI solidarity programme. She competed several times as a member of the Thai Equestrian team.

She has established the "Princess's Cup, Thailand" with the main objective to promote awareness of equestrian sports among Thais and show the world Thailand's ability to host major events. She also initiated the "Best Groom" and "Best Farrier" contests in Thailand in 2016.

The Princess loves dressage, because it combines art and competition like rhythmic gymnastics. She pays attention to every detail and arranges her musical scores for dressage competitions herself.

Currently, the Princess mainly performs her royal duties and works as a fashion designer. During April-September, she focuses on equestrian training in Europe. Her regular trainer in France is Jean-Phillipe Siat, but she has also taken intensive courses with German judge and trainer Christoph Hess. As of now, she is training and competing in the high level of dressage competitions, Prix St George and Intermediate I, as well as improving her skill with training in Grand Prix level.

The princess has seven horses in different disciplines --Prince Charming WPA (Dressage), W-Calata (Jumping), Bingo S (Jumping & Eveting), Cappuccino (Jumping), Duke of Swing (Dressage), Iris (Dressage) and Furst Henry (Dressage). Her favourite is Prince Charming WPA, a Hanoverian which she rode in numerous Prix St George competitions internationally. Several of her royal horses are now in Morigny-Champigny, France, where the princess resides.

Recently, the princess visited the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. She expressed her interest in training and activities for the well-being and good health of horses. The Bangkok Post had the privilege to follow her royal entourage to Switzerland and France and interview the Princess about horse riding and her FEI visit, as follows:

Your Royal Highness, how do you manage your time since you have so many interests, both fashion design and horse riding?

As a matter of fact, it is really difficult, but finally I have to merge all my work together. Most of the time, I give first priority to competitions. I set my own mission to take part in two major competitions each month. Small ones excluded. For example, this trip [to Switzerland and France] is for practising. I usually put everything on the agenda and then plan everything with every member of the team. At the same time, I combine my fashion work, which is my current job. I know that there are no horse riding competitions every day or every week. I also write on the agenda that I must be well-prepared and practise [horse riding] every week. I usually practise every afternoon six days a week and do my fashion work in the evening. On weekends, I work harder and exercise more. In other words, I am busy with my routine work all day.

Equestrian sports are divided into several disciplines. Dressage, which Your Royal Highness focuses on, may not draw as much attention as jumping and eventing. Please tell us more about dressage.

Dressage is a basic sporting skill for all equestrian disciplines. Everyone must begin with a correct riding position. The first test is dressage, although not everyone is good at it. No matter how high their levels are, all riders must do dressage. For jumping riders, they call a dressage skill flat work. Every day, we must control our horses and do flat work. I hope you regard dressage as laying a concrete foundation for every house. Because if we are able to control our horses, we know how to collect our horses, know their speed and adapt them to several disciplines.

The royal visit to the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Dressage itself is rather an academic thing that requires good concentration and more physical strength than the other disciplines. Dressage riders feel more exhausted than riders of the other disciplines. We not only pant but also feel exhausted from within, like when we practise yoga. For example, in difficult standing postures, we must hold [the rein] all the time. It is a difficult discipline, but it is not too hard for people to watch and understand. Viewers can see movements of horses by noticing their leg movements. Sometimes, in case of excellent riders, we may not see how riders move, hold and control their horses. Famous and experienced riders can change movements elegantly as if their horses are flying and achieve various major movements [extended trot/extended canter/flying change, etc].

Dressage is interesting but difficult or not so exciting for people to watch, because they won't see horses jump across fences and sometimes fail. Results [of dressage competitions] are probably not visible clearly for them. It is more like gymnastics or rhythmic gymnastics, which requires athletes to do difficult postures and pass various tests. Viewers have fun while riders and horses feel exhausted.

Your Royal Highness initiated Best Groom and Best Farrier contests in the Princess's Cup. How would you like these competitions to continue?

As for the competitions, I do not do it just for myself. Riders, horses, coaches and teams must go together. It is like having a football team with a medical unit, coach and physical therapist. It is like a football player who needs a special pair of shoes. They need different studs for different football fields. Likewise, horses have different shapes of hooves and need help [in making them work]. So, farrier teams must know how to make both ordinary and special horseshoes. And they must make sure that every shoeing does no harm to and creates a better balance for horses. Therefore, from now on towards the future we may have a clinic. If that's not enough, there will be a mobile unit for teaching theories and providing training. That's what I want to do. Also, there will be horse anatomy experts and persons who know how to take care of horses and do proper grooming. They must know how to not only prepare horses, but also notice the condition of horses and detect their illnesses. Everyone is comparable to a football team or a tennis team, such as the way Serena Williams always goes with her team.

Please tell us briefly about the result of your recent visit to the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) in Switzerland.

First, I went to introduce myself as one of Thailand's riders who supports [horse riding] and has a lot of good projects. And I went to see their projects and share information about my projects and the Thailand Equestrian Federation. I also looked at projects which I had joined in or learned from. Then, I requested assistance for what we already have and wish to continue. I would like to establish connections and see what we shall do and how we shall be able to collaborate with them in the future.

What are your goals in sports?

I wish to go as high as possible which are Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special. Meanwhile, whether I shall be qualified for the Olympic Games depends on destiny. Whatever it will be, I shall do the best with horse riding and must learn more. There are many more techniques for me to study. I shall make our team -- the Royal Stable Unit -- a good one, and fulfil my dream to compete in one Grand Prix Special tournament or two and obtain good scores. Whenever I reach a high level, I consider it the best thing.


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