The King Father's Cambodian Equestrian Team rides in Rome in the 1950s.
CAMBODIA is galloping forward in international horse riding competitions thanks to a combination of support from King Father Norodom Sihanouk, the Cambodian Country Club, Maddox Chivan Children's Center – and enthusiastic French-Moroccan manager and lifelong horse trainer Soraya Ourrais who grew up in Casablanca.
The Cambodian Equestrian Federation sent a group of riders to Thailand in December, from which they took home several ribbons and a feeling of accomplishment, according to Ourrais.
A lifelong talented equestrian himself, the King Father answered a letter from secretary general of the Cambodian Equestrian Federation Philippe Garcia in 2004 about the proposed setting up of the Cambodian Equestrian Center.
“When I proposed to the club to create a yearly championship, it was without any doubt for us that the King Father would support it because he is the only person in Cambodia with the equestrian knowledge and a rider past, at international level,” Ourrais said.
“So we sent His Majesty a letter to inform him and request his support. His answer was a great surprise: He accepted to give his name to the championship and decided to award the event.”
Thus, the CEF and the Cambodian Country Club are organising a jumping championship called Norodom Sihanouk Du Cambodge, 7th edition, with about 50 riders from 10 different nations this year. The series of events will be held on January 30, February 6, and February 13 at the Cambodian Country Club.
The Cambodian national team will participate in the championship and it will count in the selection of the riders – the creation of the rankings -- who can go to the SEA Games in November 2011 in Indonesia, Ourrais said.
“After this championship, the national team will start a training period of three months in June 2011. The four or five riders selected to represent Cambodia will go to Indonesia to have a specific training.
Of course all this can be possible only if we find good sponsors,” she said.
The King Father was supported in the last national team that went to international competition in 1956. His Majesty personally guided this national team at equestrian internationals in Sweden, France and Italy.
Starting in 2006, in order to connect the disadvantaged youngsters from the Maddox Chivan Children's Center, which is a partner of the Cambodian Health Committee and the larger Global Health Committee, 30 children were introduced to the joy and discipline of working with horses.
Ourrais says children learning mastery of the horse is applicable to many situations in life.
“Control of the horse is all about an iron fist in a velvet glove,” she said.
"Children learn to manage and give orders to the horse. They can see European children riding too and it makes feel they're just as good," Ourrais said.
A third of the funding comes from the Maddox Center, and two-thirds come from the Cambodian Country Club, the owner of which is a textile industry leader, Van Sou Ieng. Riders also come from Phnom Penh families who show up for practice sessions and a number of riders have also come from French NGO PSE (in English For the Smile of a Child)
Winners at the Thailand competition in December included Lon Sopheatra, 14, Sim Narith, 17, and Hoy Soparith, 30 Following the Thailand trip, the Cambodian Country Club together with NGO Hagar Catering & Management Facilities organszed a cocktail party for sponsors, potential sponsors and the media.
Philippe gave a speech recognising the work the Maddox Chivan Children's Center for AIDS infected and affected children in Phnom and the support of actress and activist Angelina Jolie.
To date, the Chivan Center has offered its program of multidisciplinary care to more than 600 Cambodian children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS
The Maddox Chivan Center focuses on the growing population of children whose lives have been severely impacted by the AIDS epidemic. Before having access to therapy, support was limited to accompanying children in the last moments of their lives.
Now, life expectancy is much higher, which changes the type of support that they need. These needs extend beyond mere medical ones. They are typically unable to receive schooling because of their illness or because they have to take care of their ill parents, or work to support their families.
Current estimates report that about 14,000 children in Cambodia are infected with HIV and mother-to-child transmission of AIDS is one of the major reasons for new infections.
Another sponsor of the CEF is the Irish company Horseware, the world’s leading manufacture of horse blankets.
Managing director Tom MacGuinness first came to Cambodia in 2005 to visit his sister Margaret who works for the United Nations in Phnom Penh.
Horseware has a factory in Sihanoukville and employs more than 100 people, serving markets in Australia and all over the world. Horseware’s special blankets are designed to allow increased comfort for the horse during sweaty rides and they’re a donor of blankets to the Cambodian Equestrian Federation through the Cambodian Country Club.
Horseware employees and associates have also been involved in supporting the improvement of people’s lives though solar panels and other initiatives in Sihanoukville.More about Horseware’s charitable programs can be found at: http://www.justworldinternational.org/About.htm