Proteas showjumper Lorette Knowles-Taylor had to take a break from top-level competition due to injuries and not having suitable horses fit to compete, but the good news for South African equestrian sport is that she is back and her trademark passion and verve are as strong as ever.
Following the first leg of the World Cup qualifying series held at Kyalami last weekend, Knowles-Taylor says she is nursing a “bruised coccyx, rump and wrist” but if anyone epitomises bouncebackability then it is one of South Africa’s most decorated showjumpers.
“I’m just off the first leg of the series, having been out of top-level showjumping for three years because of injury – a few head bangs – and not having a fit horse that was able to compete at that level. I twice had three months medical rest due to concussion after I was smacked in the face. It was only a month later actually, in competition, that I had a blackout. I also broke my leg as a child and didn’t know about it, but my most sore injury was a broken toe, which still pains me to this day. But overall I think I’ve been lucky, it’s an exciting year ahead and I hope to be properly competitive,” Knowles-Taylor said.
Knowles-Taylor has always been a tremendous competitor on the South African equestrian scene, having first received her Proteas colours in 2006 and having won seven major championships. She has competed overseas in the UK, Spain and Holland, as well as in New Zealand during the Tri-Nations between 2006 and 2008.
While the ultimate for any equestrian sportsperson is to qualify for the Olympic Games and World Equestrian Games, South Africans are at a disadvantage because it’s not practical just to take your own horse overseas with you, so they end up riding on borrowed horses.
Just as the relationship between a car and its driver is a critical part of Formula One racing, so close is the link between a showjumper and their horse.
“It’s not ideal and good horses aren’t just floating around overseas either. If you do take your own horse overseas than it has to spend four to five months in quarantine overseas, plus 90 days in Mauritius as a stopover, so there are huge drawbacks. Plus there are health problems from your horse going from the mid-summer heat and humidity of Mauritius to minus one degrees on the tarmac in Europe.
“But there are a lot of good South Africans overseas and they are very capable of flying the flag. The Olympic Games are every little girl’s dream and the winner of the South African leg of the World Cup series qualifies for the final and then has dispensation for two years to compete overseas and try and qualify for the Olympics,” Knowles-Taylor said.
Despite the massive commitments involved – Knowles-Taylor trains for five hours a day on six different horses, over-and-above being a mother, coach and articled accountant running the Farnham Stables business with husband Barry, himself a phenomenal equestrian having been named Showjumper of the Year five times – the sport is flourishing.
“The sport is seriously booming despite the country essentially being in recession, although it still needs to grow, no doubt, and shake off the White elitist stigma it still has. But for the Nissan Winter Classic in June at Shongweni, they opened online applications at noon and before the end of the day it crashed – there were 2100 entrants in four hours, which shows the interest.
“Although we’re the attraction, we still have to pay to be there and for our seven horses, the event costs R11 200 to enter and R11 000 for stabling. We’re blessed to have multiple sponsors, but funding your participation and the finances involved is the toughest part of showjumping. We need to discuss how affordable it is for the juniors, where we want to see more growth, to join the mainstream,” Knowles-Taylor said.
The love affair with horses began for the Namibian-born Knowles-Taylor when she was seven.
“I fell in love with horses on a family holiday and my father said he would support my riding as long as I got an academic qualification. Which I did and then I did my articles at Deloittes. Obviously the support of my husband has also been crucial. My passion for horses has just never waned, even though it is difficult to be both a Super Mom and a Super Rider.
“The last few years I feel like I’ve been doing things at half-measures because I ended up with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome from burning the candle at both ends in trying to do everything, but hopefully I can get back to both at full capacity. The showjumping is just adrenaline and adventure thrill, but the part when I’m just sitting on my horse is my happy place,” Knowles-Taylor said.
And no doubt when her beaming smile is back on the podium she will be happiest of all.