Cover Story: Equestrian Star Jaruporn Limpichati On Jumping For Joy
A member of the Thai national equestrian team since 2013, Jaruporn Limpichati got a taste for competitive show jumping—and winning—at an early age. Today the 26-year-old known as Sai recalls her earliest memories with horses. “They were always in the family,” she says, “My grandfather, Parapot, would tell me stories about riding horses to school. My mother, Nopsiri, is a rider too. I was only five when I followed my cousins and elder sister to riding clubs where I would watch them and long to be up in the saddle too.” It came as a relief to the eight-year-old when she was allowed to ride solo for the first time and by nine she was seriously hooked on the sport.
It was around this time that Sai began competing, winning bows and ribbons in small club competitions. “My first tournament was the over 50-centimetre jumps. That doesn’t sound much but it was a thrilling experience. My attitude to competition was different even then. For me the challenge wasn’t to beat my fellow competitors per se, it was for me and my horse to beat the course—to get round as quickly as possible without any faults. I was always looking to beat my personal best,” she explains.
After that early taste of competition her training began in earnest. “Every day after classes at Chitralada School I would go to the Royal Horse Guard Riding Club on Phahonyothin Road to practise,” says Sai. “My training there was different to how I train now because we had to borrow horses from the Army. In fact, that was a blessing in disguise because it exposed me to different types of horses. I had to learn quickly what each horse was like in terms of ability and temperament, which really developed my ‘horse sense’ and stood me in good stead for later competitions.”
It was a routine she maintained when she went to Srinakharinwirot University to study for a bachelor’s degree in sustainable ecotourism. “Then towards the end of my first year at university I decided to move to Checkmate Horse Club following the suggestion of my coach at the time,” the equestrian says. She’d already mastered the 120-centimetre jumps and was so proficient that her coach suggested it was time she had her own horse and referred her to Dhewin Manathanya, another national team rider and owner of Checkmate.
“Shortly after the move Dhewin became my coach and helped me to pick my first horse,” Sai chuckles. She is referring fondly to Irregular Choice, her Irish jumper. “He is the epitome of a hard-working horse. No frills—he’s a plain brown and he just gets on with it. I flew to Ireland to try him out and fell in love with him. He had the best can-do attitude and would always help me. Whereas I would be hesitant about a jump, he’d just go for it. Sometimes I was really just a passenger.”
Irregular Choice was lighter than most European horses and very forward going and energetic. “He was a six-year-old gelding when I got him and when he came to Thailand in 2013 I couldn’t be there to greet him because I was competing in the 27th SEA Games in Myanmar,” Sai recalls. At the tournament she won the silver medal in the individual show jumping category and helped secure bronze in the team event. It was her first big international meeting and it was organised as a ‘borrowed horse’ competition—where participants ride mounts that are not their own (in this case a pool of horses from Australia). “The jumps weren’t that high but the real challenge was getting used to a strange horse quickly,” the medalist explains. “Fortunately my time training at the Royal Horse Guard Club really helped in that regard.”
Having her own horse means being able to set goals for herself. “I can work on improving my weak points and Choice’s. Dhewin has been a great help and always has something to say about my riding—there is always something to work on.” But equestrian sports are not without their dangers and Sai admits falls and injuries are as easy to recall as triumphs. She laughs, “I may not remember the first time I got on a horse, but I remember very well the first time I fell—well, most of it!” It was her first serious injury and it came in early 2013 while training with Irregular Choice. The pair were attempting a 130-centimetre jump for the first time. “We were feeling brave but cautious at the same time, so when it came to the jump we lost our rhythm and I fell under his belly and one of his hind hooves clipped my head. I dropped like a stone, completely unconscious, and only came round as they were carrying me into the ambulance.”
Sai graduated from university in late 2016 and although she was keen to do something in ecotourism she says riding always seemed to get in the way. “I was preoccupied with training so never really looked into it properly. I was building up to the 29th SEA Games in Malaysia in 2017 and we had a training camp in Pattaya for three months. I managed to finish my degree but because of my riding schedule I put ecotourism on a back burner.” The training paid off however and the last three years have proved to be the most fruitful to date for the young rider. Having secured second place in the 2016 Princess Cup Thailand show jumping event she went on to win the competition in 2017, 2018 and 2019. She laughs, “Before the Princess Cup last year I remember saying to friends that having won it two years running I would definitely not win it again. I have won consecutive tournaments before but never three in a row and this time Choice and I were up against fences of 140-145 centimetres. But we did it…our first hat-trick!” she giggles.
In 2019 Sai bought another horse, a pretty white mare called Comt’est Z. Chuckling, she says, “Even the stables I got her from didn’t know how to say her name, so we call her Nong Ouan, or little fat one instead.” In the same year—after an arduous qualifying tournament which she won—Sai was all set to make her first appearance at her biggest event yet, the FEI Asia Championships. However, it was at this point that she experienced a string of bad luck. “I caught an eye infection when I fell asleep in the stables after practice one evening,” she smiles ruefully. “And then one of the pills I was taking for the infection got lodged in my throat and caused a reaction, which meant I didn’t eat, drink or sleep much for a few days. A week later we were competing in the FEI Asian Championships but I felt so tired. My concentration was off and we made a mistake at a water jump. Choice tripped on his landing and threw me. At the time I didn’t feel like I’d hurt myself but I withdrew from the event and went to the hospital for a precautionary check, which revealed I’d suffered a displaced fracture of my right toe. It required an operation to insert a metal bolt to get the bones to fuse together again.”
Her latest injury has left Sai with the feeling that she has unfinished business. “The Asian Games, the SEA Games and the Princess Cup tournaments were high points for sure, but just getting into the FEI event marked a personal best—and then I fell. So yes, I know I have it in me to go one better.” To do that she feels she must go overseas to train, although that would be without her beloved horses, which—much like their owner recently— are currently in an extended lockdown and under an indefinite travel quarantined because of an outbreak of African Horse Sickness. You can be sure, however, that Sai and her precious mounts are champing at the bit to be back in harness and competing once again
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- Photography Chaiwat Kangsamrith
- Make-Up Ithigorn Luksameejunporn
- Hair Pichet Poobanthat
- Styling Aruchan Phanpat
- Outfit Theatre
- Location Checkmate Horse Club