Results from the first Vietnamese Equestrian Grand Prix….

On the outskirts of Saigon in Binh Duong, the first Vietnamese Equestrian Grand Prix debuted last month with little fanfare to an audience of approximately 200 guests. No tickets were sold. All guests were strictly by invitation only. No jubilant announcements on Vietnamese mainstream media. No catchy titles splashed across printed pages and no camera crews and no TV coverage. Despite being a self-proclaimed international standard grand prix, complete with Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) judges flown in from Hong Kong and the Philippines and a dedicated Parcour designer, the event was a small and quiet affair. In fact, it may be more appropriate to call it a community gathering than a grand prix.

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Despite this, neither the guests nor the contestants seemed to mind. Many even felt this was the best way to approach it.

“In other countries where people are already used to and love horses and horse riding, like Germany for example, an equestrian grand prix can garner audiences in the thousands,” says Johny Mak, one of the presiding FEI judges. “I don’t know much about Vietnam, but in a country where horses are, for all intents and purposes, still treated and listed as beasts of burden, do you think a sport whose core is the bond between the rider and the horse would ever be a mainstream thing?

“To be honest, we prefer it like this. It feels private and familiar. It feels like a community. It’s a place where we can share our passion for the sport with other lovers of equestrianism. We understand that not everyone is as crazy for horses as we are so it’s great to have a place where we can be horse crazy all we want without hindering other people. We may not be ‘grand’ in size… yet… but we are grand in heart,” he adds.

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A Partnership

So what exactly is equestrianism?

According to Vittorio, the second FEI judge from the Philippines, equestrianism is, in essence, the partnership between rider and horse. “Mr. Google probably does a better job at explaining what it is than I do. But if you want a more personal take on what it is, then that’s mine. Equestrianism can be understood as the composite of various horse riding skills such as jumping or dressage, but it is also more than that.

“It takes anything from five to ten years of constant and dedicated training to become truly proficient. Riders spend only half of that time on horseback, however. The other half is spent on familiarizing yourself with the horse, feeding it, washing it, talking to it, taking care of it, until the point where trust starts to develop from sheer familiarity,” Vittorio explains. “The horse is your partner. It’s not a machine or a bike that you can push buttons and steer in the right direction. If he doesn’t like you, he’s not about to let you boss him around or even sit on his back, which is why a lot of new riders often find themselves on the ground. There has to be communication between the rider and horse. There has to be a partnership, and partnership doesn’t grow out of thin air. True partnership requires time, commitment and dedication.”

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The contest itself is comprised of three categories: show jumping, dressage (also called “horse ballet”), and freeform riding.

The end of the two-day contest saw the crowning of the show jumping and dressage champion, who, amazingly, was not only the same person but also a young 14-year-old Vietnamese girl. Over the course of two days, Ngo Hong Ngoc and her equine partner Bakun beat out six other competitors for the trophies.

“I’m overwhelmed,” says Ngoc on receiving her two trophies. “I put in a lot of hard work and so did Bakun. It’s Bakun who I have to thank.” Bakun is one among the 28 horses kept and cared for by the Bach Ma Equestrian Farm, also the host of the contest. They have known each other for only six months.

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“Bakun is a very calm, very gentle horse,” Ngoc explains. “I think he trains me as much as I train him. Horse riding can be very nerve-wracking at times, so having a partner who is always calm really helps. In the end, just like with other riders and horses, it’s our bond that pulls us through to the finish line.”

The farm owner says: “We are overwhelmed with the feedback we have received. Two British trainers even offered to train our horses and riders for free in appreciation for our enthusiasm. This first grand prix may be small but because we did everything properly, it is legitimate and recognized by FEI certified judges. This is but the first milestone for us. Eventually, we will have a second grand prix, then a third, and then we will introduce equestrianism to more and more people in Vietnam.”

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Images provided by Bach Ma Equestrian Farm