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Horsin’ Around

by Ashima

Jyotika and Rashmika Khanijou‘s passion for horse riding

By Temur Yusuf

Horse riding isn’t your typical hobby, particularly in Thailand, where a lack of facilities and unpleasant weather dissuade many from pursuing this endeavour. However, Jyotika and Rashmika Khanijou stepped out of the norm and turned what is considered to be a niche pastime into a passionate lifestyle. It was their father’s dream for them as children to master their equestrian skills. But they lost interest for a lengthy period and only rediscovered their attachment to riding as young adults. With their fervent enthusiasm and go-getting attitude, it’s no wonder the two picked up the exhilarating sport so quickly.

For this interview, they take us inside their newfound lifestyle, and reveal how they tackle the art of dressage, their experience competing at a preliminary level and how riding has shaped their current lives.

How did your love for horse riding initially blossom?

Rashmika: After our father became a member of the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, it was his dream for us to start riding. When we were seven and 10, respectively, we started to ride and did so for nearly four years. I was never so keen on it — not that I didn’t want to do it, but I was often scared. And with the lack of a riding partner, Jyotika also eventually stopped. However, she encouraged me to continue after I completed my studies in Australia.

Jyotika: When I received my own club membership at 21, I used it only for the gym. But seeing people ride made me think about our childhood experiences, and that convinced me to give riding a shot once again. When I first came back to the stables, I was very scared. I even hated the idea of standing around horses — it had been almost 10 years since I last rode. But I persevered. The first few months, I learnt from a teacher whose style I didn’t enjoy, and that got me thinking the whole riding thing was not really for me. But when I found a different teacher, a former national team dressage rider, everything changed. He’s still my teacher to this day.

Tell us about the stars of the show – your horses!

Jyotika: My horse’s name is Paula. I’ve only been riding her for seven months, but words don’t do justice to the relationship I have with her. She’s definitely a somewhat advanced horse and not for someone who is learning to ride. And a real drama queen too! Even though she was difficult to handle initially, there was something about her that kept me coming back. Look where we are today! It’s utterly strange yet so beautiful that I’ve fallen in love with a horse. Riding, for me at least, is all about Paula. It’s almost as if she’s taught me how to do it.

Rashmika: I ride three different horses — Dolly, Napa and Elmo. I recently fell off Elmo and injured myself severely. He has had a history of doing such things though. I had been riding him for a month and a half, and one fine day while practicing for a competition, he spooked. He ran and I flew onto the fence, smashing my collarbone in the process. All of this was four months ago, and I’ve only returned to riding three weeks back. The doctor hasn’t even given me the green light to ride yet.

What riding styles do you practice? Do you also compete at a higher level?

Jyotika: We both do dressage, which is about monitoring the rhythms and movements of the horse. This is not about controlling the horse, but rather teaches you how to communicate with your horse using physical strength. Going from one move to the next to run the course curves is primarily what dressage is all about. Rashmika has now started jumping fences — I don’t have the heart to jump.

Rashmika: We both compete in dressage competitions locally. We have entered preliminary level contests at RBSC Polo Club, Royal Horse Guard Riding Club and Thai Polo & Equestrian Club, Pattaya. It might not seem that way, but it’s actually a scary experience to take the horses outside the club. They are very used to being here where it’s fairly quiet. So when they go out, they tend to spook, and sometimes have difficulties with the different noises around. But if you want to get better at what you do, you have to compete outside.

How has the experience moulded you so far?

Rashmika: Riding is incredible. Horses are temperamental and sensitive creatures, so the proposition is difficult, but it’s all about the bond you have with the horse. You can ride an easy horse, but if you don’t have a connection with them, you’ll never be able to ride. Conversely, you can have a relationship with a difficult horse and make it all look so easy. And the experience thus far has been life altering. If we’re upset at something, whatever the issue may be, we come here and instantly find happiness. People ask us how we can even like riding, but now we’re so past that initial stage. We’re even okay with the smell of horse manure — it doesn’t bother us anymore!

Jyotika: Recently, on a public holiday, I spent an entire day here cleaning out Paula’s stall. From her hay to what she sleeps on — I cleaned it all. At the end of it, I was the happiest person alive. There is something therapeutic about experiences like these. Whenever I am done riding Paula, I shower her, dry her up and prepare her to go back into her stall. It’s not only about the one hour you book to ride, but it is also about what you do before and after that matter as much. The process is long but eminently fulfilling.

What does the future hold for the two of you?

Rashmika: The logical next step for us is to own a horse. Going to different places to try different horses is a nerve wracking experience, because you have no idea what the horse is like. But that, in its own way, gives you a lot of confidence. Competition horses are thoroughbreds and very difficult to ride. Hence, we’re seeking horses that are somewhere in between riding and competitive. We’re definitely not working towards becoming athletes, as we do it for fun!

Jyotika: It has been extremely difficult for us to make our mother understand the love we have for horses. She was never really fond of it, but after Rashmika broke her collarbone, she has been anti-riding. When we get back home late from the club, we sometimes get an earful, but we know she fully supports our passion. It’s a proper lifestyle that we now follow. Not only the riding aspect, but coming here, meeting new people and talking about our shared passion — this is our present and future.

Surely it hasn’t been all about breaking bones! Any fun experiences?

Rashmika: The first time I fell off Dolly, she spooked because I tied polo wraps around her legs. Horses can spook for the most mundane of reasons. Thankfully, it only resulted in a little soreness.

Jyotika: My horse is weirdly territorial when it comes to me. She wants me to shower her, and even give her kisses during it. At the end of the day, she belongs to the club so I have to remain open to sharing her, but I try my best to make her my own. When I’m about to come in for a ride, the groomer will text me to ask what I’m wearing on that particular day and will match her saddle pad to my shirt.

What are your final thoughts? Any pointers for aspiring riders?

Jyotika: Riding is beyond a hobby — it’s an obsession. It’s amazing to see how we’ve both imbibed the art of riding, and have grown to love the same thing over the years. We hope to keep going on like this for a long time, and to be able to bond with and earn the trust of many more horses.

Rashmika: Riding takes a lot of focus and commitment, but achieving exactly what you want out of it is immensely satisfying. There is no better feeling than when your horse — an animal 10 times your own size — is responding exactly to what you’re asking of it. Horses welcome anybody on their backs, so when you’re on there, be prepared for the ride of your life.

Originally published in Masala Lite October 2017.

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