SINGAPORE – On Boxing Day, Christie Nair’s belated Christmas and advanced birthday present came in the form of winning the 100-110cm junior (14 to 18 years old) category at the SEA Digitalisation Show Jumping Development Challenge, an event that could be the future format of equestrian in the Covid-19 era.
Despite it being 13 months since she last took part in an international competition, the Singaporean, who turns 17 on Thursday (Dec 31), and her seven-year-old horse Corason placed first out of 17 riders from Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
What was different this time was that there were only a handful of local-based riders at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club, as this four-category (junior and open) competition was held simultaneously across four venues in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand due to the pandemic.
Christie said: “I definitely miss the international competitions that usually happen around this time of the year because we get to interact with so many riders from around the world and it’s a really good experience to get to ride different horses.
“But I think this digitalised event was so well-run and such a good alternative to normal shows because it gives us the same exposure to competing at a large scale with more experienced riders while making sure everyone is staying safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
To ensure consistency, all the venues had to put up a formal show jumping course conceptualised by the official course designer. These courses must be identical, with the same height, distance, and fence elements.
All the jumps were broadcasted online using Zoom and a panel of three judges from Malaysia then called the competition from the Equestrian Association of Malaysia (EAM) office in Selangor. There were 51 entries from the three participating countries across four classes.
The Equestrian Federation of Singapore (EFS) shared that the South East Asia Equestrian Federation took about three months to come up with the framework and guidelines.
The EAM had also conducted a trial digitalisation show jumping event for its local riding clubs in October, before the idea of an international competition emerged in November.
EFS general manager Shirley Khaw said: “The objective of this event is to give riders the platform and opportunities to compete against riders from other countries, without having to leave their own country.
“The key challenge is to ensure that all respective organising venues must work to comply with their own countries’ existing measures and guidelines, while ensuring that the safety of all riders, officials and volunteers remain the top priority and are not compromised.
“We have been working closely with both Sport Singapore and Singapore Land Authority, who have been very supportive and helpful, to ensure that all aspects of the organisation are in full compliance with the Covid-19 safe management measures laid out to minimise all potential risks.”
The measures included temperature-taking, compulsory wearing of masks except while mounted on horse, and having no spectators. All rosettes, medals and certificates were sent to the riders by courier.
While Khaw noted that a similar format had been introduced by world governing body International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) in 2001 at the Jumping World Challenge, the physical presence of FEI international judges were required then.
She believes the Asean variation could be the way to go for equestrian if the coronavirus remains. There are plans for another event in March or April, while the Asian Equestrian Federation is also exploring the possibility of holding an online continental event.
Khaw said: “We are definitely exploring the possibility of introducing this to our other disciplines like dressage, as the physical presence of judges and technical officials are highly challenged due to the cross border restrictions which remain highly fluid and unpredictable.
“There is the need for us to think out of the box and get creative. The key is how to transform these challenges into opportunities for growth and development of our sport.”
Equestrian is not the only sport to use technology to organise competitions during the pandemic.
The April 12-16 National Basketball Association Horse Challenge, the April 17-June 5 Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) Home Tour and the July 9 Inspiration Games (athletics) were all held remotely.
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