While some Cambodian teenagers spent their weekend hanging out with family, chatting with friends, or watching movies, since the age of 13 Lon Sopheaktra has been spending his weekends training to ride horses at the Cambodian Country Club (CCC).
Although his involvement in the Madox Chivan Children Centre, an organization founded by Angelina Jolie, introduced him to riding horses as a sport, he has taken his good fortune and worked relentlessly to improve his skills. In the last two years he has risen from a beginner to being a level 6 horseback rider, the highest level possible.
He said that his foreign trainers would often accuse him of lacking the motivation to practice and learn how to ride horses expertly, but he never got angry with them because he knew they just wanted his to be the best he could be. When he began riding horses, Lon Sopheaktra said that it was really hard not to make the horse surprised or excited, and even more difficult to get the horse to settle down afterwards.
“Even once we have learned to ride horses it can still be really hard,” said the grade 9th student at Chea Sim Samaky high school. “That’s why we have to learn to control them.”
Psychological issues were not the only problem that Lon Sopheaktra had to overcome over the past two years; he recalls one time in particular when he fell off a new horse and broke his arm upon hitting the ground. He said he knew how to ride horses, but the new horse at the stable, recently brought from Siem Riep, became so excited that even the trainers couldn’t control it.
Lon Sopheaktra began riding only on Fridays, but his trainers told him that he would need to practice more often if he wanted to be competitive in equestrian events, so he started to practice on Saturday and Sunday as well. It was this determination and effort that ultimately earned the 15-year-old an invitation to join two competitions in Thailand, including X-mas Jumping last December, in which 9 countries participated.
He said the abilities of the riders was not extraordinary, but that the horse that contestants ride makes the biggest difference. “Thai equestrians were better than us and contestants from other countries since they knew their horse, bought them and fed them every day,” he said.
During the competition in Thailand Lon Sopheaktra made a few small mistakes that ended up preventing him from winning, but he still took home 2nd place. He said he felt so proud to have the chance to learn to ride horses and go abroad to join competitions like football players and other athletes.
During the Norodom Sihanouk du Cambodge Championship, held at CCC last week, we was awarded second place in the top level competition called the Grand Prix.
He said that he hopes to continue to represent Cambodia in international events and build up his reputation in competitions in the country. Eventually, he hopes to improve his English and become a horse trainer.