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Meet Team Philippines' Up-And-Coming Equestrians Competing In Equestrian PH's Inaugural Riders Tour! 

Cultivating a deeper appreciation of the sport is a fresh crop of emerging Filipino riders determined to shine the spotlight on the Philippines in the highly competitive world of horse riding 

(From left) Team Philippines: Lara Zobel, Alex Ynares Villalon, Mohamed El Akkad, Minxie Romualdez, Paola Lorenzo, and Nicole Camcam | Photo by Jar Concengco


Equestrian Philippines, Inc. (Equestrian PH) has something special in store this coming Sunday, September 29, 2019. For the very first time, Equestrian PH will be holding a Riders Tour to be held at the Manila Polo Club, where budding riders from Philippine and Malaysian teams will participate in a show jumping competition. 


While horse riding competitions have always been part and parcel of Manila Polo Club's decades-long horse riding history, this will be the first time in many years that its top young riders will experience going head to head with an international team in this setting.  


As Equestrian PH president Carissa Coscolluela details, the event was meant "to give our developing pool of riders a chance to experience riding as a team against another country, a completely different experience from riding individually in local competitions, which is what most of them are used to."  


Ultimately, the goal of the competition was to develop the Philippines' most promising riders to become internationally competitive. It's a wonderful opportunity to prepare them for the Asian Games, Southeast Asian Games—and even the Olympics—that demand mental, physical, and emotional prowess from all its participants. 


Those who qualified for the competition include Minxie Romualdez, Alex Ynares Villalon, Nicole Camcam, Lara Zobel, and Paola Lorenzo, who are joined by guest rider Mohamed El Akkad. Each rider will be paired with a Malaysian counterpart and will compete in their respective height categories. 


All accomplished riders on their own, they will face an added layer of complexity in the competition: riding horses that aren't their own. 


However, with all the training the Philippine team has undergone and the skill and confidence that each of its riders possesses, Carissa and team coach Joker Arroyo have complete and absolute faith in how well the Philippine bets will perform now and in the future. 


“This is an exciting team, full of fresh, new talents, who I hope we will see on senior Philippine teams in the future,” Arroyo  says of this team. “Each one of them is hardworking, determined, and competitive, constantly in pursuit of improvement and progress.”


Below, meet the up-and-coming equestrians from Team Philippines who will face the Malaysian team:


These young riders will experience going head to head with Team Malaysia at Equestrian PH's inaugural Riders Tour. In photo are the members of Team Philippines (standing, from left) Nicole Camcam, Mohamed El Akkad, and Lara Zobel, (sitting, from left) Minxie Romualdez, Alex Ynares Villalon, and Paola Lorenzo | Photo by Jar Concengco


Rider: Minxie Romualdez, 11

Horse: Magic Mio


Minxie might be the youngest of this talented and dedicated set, but like many early achievers whose ages have deceived, this pre-teen packs a powerful punch. 


At 11 years old, she's already looked into which colleges to prioritize come application season based on the quality of their equestrian programs. It's best to be prepared, she assures, as becoming a professional horse rider is the ultimate dream she hopes to achieve in the future. It's one she's had since she was a six-year-old learning to play polo and practicing dressage skills with her dad and older brothers during trips to Switzerland—definitive experiences that paved the way for her love affair with horse riding—and one she believes will persist into adulthood. 


Mirroring the same quiet confidence she has when atop Magic Mio, Minxie speaks with an air of assuredness about the sport she's grown up with. 


"This has taught me a lot. It's taught me that you just need to suck it up when you fall down and not be a baby about it, or be too scared [to try again]. It has taught me responsibility, too, to take care of my equipment and gear that I need to use every time I ride. It has made me more mature. I wouldn't be the same person without riding," she tells Metro.Style.


It definitely helps that she's a one-in-a-million member of her generation who willingly seeks out activities that get her up and about to see the world; according to her, the less time she spends on the Internet, the better. 


She explains, "[Horse riding] really makes you change as a person for the better. It shows you more things that you've never seen before. It makes you open up your schedule and makes you appreciate the world more considering that you're traveling around the world and visiting all these different places and scenarios."


Without a doubt, Minxie's razor-sharp focus will prove to be an asset come competition time, as it's exactly what has helped her come in first or second place in practically every show she's joined since she began competing at age seven. 


"I'm going to try and do it as perfectly as possible... I hope it'll bring out the best in me because I want to show everyone that I can rock it," she shares about what she hopes to accomplish at the upcoming competition, where she will be seen in action in the 65 cm category (a height level where she has consistently been in the medals in local competitions). 


With the help of the team's coach, Southeast Asian games medalist and national team veteran Joker Arroyo, whose training has polished her like a diamond in the rough, Minxie will certainly be a magnificent display of a winning combo of potential and dedication.  


After all, she not only competes in the sport nor brings home trophies and medals for personal gain. Even in the early stages of her burgeoning horse riding career, Minxie's has pondered on what kind of example she can set to other youth, girls in particular, through the sport. As a self-proclaimed feminist, she stresses the truth that a girl must never allow others to tell them they can't do this or that simply because they are, well, girls. 


"I really hate it when people say I can't do something just because I'm a girl. And I did grow up with brothers so I've always been influenced by the 'tomboy culture.' When I got older, when I was told I couldn't do something because I was girl, I'd say, 'No, even if I'm a girl, I can do whatever I want. So what if I'm a girl?'" Minxie declares. 


However, even when all the important things on her mind and all the reflection she's capable of, this star rider stresses the fact that fun should always be part of the formula. 


"For me, I don't feel that there is pressure because this is a sport that I want to have fun with, where I can learn and grow. If you really love what you're doing, you'll say, 'There's no pressure! I'm going to do this, and I'm going to have fun no matter what happens," Minxie ends. 


Minxie Romualdez | Photo by Jar Concengco


Rider: Alex Ynares-Villalon, 17

Horse: Un Chti du Banney, a.k.a. Clifford


Perhaps, there isn't a little girl who never wished for a real life pony for her birthday. 


For most of these tiny tots, however, their fantasies of riding these magnificent creatures into beautiful sunsets gradually fade away. But for high school senior Alex Ynares-Villalon, it was a wish that didn't only maintain its appeal over time, but one that also came true, even proving to be her life's biggest passion. Alex has been riding since the age of five.


"I'm quite a competitive person. And the moment I started [horse riding], I had to be the best at this sport. That was mainly it! I started practicing riding every day and it was all I wanted to do for the most part," Alex shares.


The sentiment is a far cry from what she felt as a 12-year-old who once cried over the sport's demands being too difficult to deal with—a memory Alex giggles at while adjusting her ponytail after a few hours' worth of pre-competition training with her coach, Joker. 


"Being that young, I just wanted to stop. But looking back at it, I'd like to do it all again," she now says more assertively. 


But as with many of our greatest achievements, there really can be no gain without sacrifice. And for a teenager who willingly chooses to spend her days participating in a sport that requires time, perseverance, the ability to handle constructive criticism, and maturity beyond one's years, the sacrifice can seem monumental—but not if you love what you do and see the value it adds to your life as a whole. 


Knowing that a sport is, in fact, a great teacher of some of life's most valuable lessons is a mark of a true sportsman; Alex recognizes that horse riding is much more than competing and winning. On several occasions, she's been able to use the wisdom she's gained from being a young equestrian and knows how important these experiences will be as she transitions to life as a university student abroad, broadens her social circle, and gets a taste of more of life. 


"There's the metaphor of 'When you fall, you get back up...' The thing is, when I compare it with other sports, it's really not the athleticism [that's important], but it's the discipline and being super focused when you're riding. It's also consistency... Because of that, I can focus in the classroom and everything else. That gave me the discipline and [the ability] to not be easily distracted," Alex shares. 


She adds, "The people who I'm with in [my other sports] and in horse riding are very different, so that taught me a lot about people skills and communication. When you interact with people of different backgrounds, I feel like I can be comfortable around whoever and that they can be comfortable around me. That's also something I've picked up from these experiences."


But unlike her teammates who have made horse riding part and parcel of their identities, Alex is only getting back into the sport now and competing more seriously. That makes her a little nervous about this month's face-off with the Malaysian team—a group of horse riders internationally renowned for their prowess at the sport—but she's taking it all in stride, never forgetting that every experience, whether you win or lose, is an opportunity to learn and improve. 


An attitude like that in itself is a win, but of course, bringing home the gold wouldn't be so bad, either. 


And with that win that Alex has her eyes fixed on, she, too, hopes to be able to spread the joy of horse riding with more Filipinos. It's a noble mission for a young rider who chooses to use her achievements for the benefit of others as well. 


Even before the competition and awards have been given out, one thing about Alex is sure; she's a treasure of the Philippine equestrian team, a rider of the highest standard. 


Alex will compete in the 75 cm category. She competes up to the 100 cm level with her 11-year-old Selle Francais gelding Un Chti du Banney, better known as Clifford.


Alex Ynares-Villalon | Photo by Jar Concengco


Rider: Mohamed El Akkad, 31

Horse: Cooper



Hailing all the way from Egypt, 31-year-old Mohamed “Mo” El Akked was initially a professional swimmer, participating in local and international competitions.

 

He tells Metro.Style, “I used to join swimming competitions (for national and small international competitions). I used to join national competitions in Egypt. I used to travel to Germany to join international ones there, but not at the Olympics level, much smaller. Then when I left swimming, I changed to modern pentathlon. Modern pentathlon, this is like five sports in 1: swimming, running, fencing, shooting, and horseback riding.”

 

From the moment he experienced horseback riding, he has never looked back since. He decided to give up the other sports and focus on equestrian. He was 18 when he started training for it, a relatively late start compared to other riders.

 

What made him fall in love with the sport?

 

“It was a combination, I guess,” he answers.“It was something totally different for me. Something that has a little bit of adventure as well, and this adrenaline in show jumping also gets me excited, because I'm a little bit adventurous as a person as well.”

 

Mo has been living in the Philippines for a year now. His work as a leader of the Search Engine Optimization Group of Lamudi was what brought him here. 

 

When he's not at work or riding on the field, Mo is typically working out in the gym. His workout routine includes running as well as a little bit of weight training. He says he works out “mainly to be fit for riding, like a means to an end."

 

As a rider, he has competed in show jumping competitions in three different countries: Egypt, Germany, and the Philippines. He aims to continue training and honing his skills until he can competently and confidently jump the 130 cm to 140 cm level. He is currently riding in the 90 cm category. 

 

Mohamed El Akked | Photo by Jar Concengco


Rider: Nicole Camcam, 14

Horses: Con Amber, Aralea T., and Lobelia


Sometimes, misfortune happens for a reason. 


For horse riding champ Nicole Camcam, her bad luck came in the form of a major ice skating injury she endured five years ago as a little girl when her leg was deeply cut by a blade. The incident left her in need of immediate medical attention and even worse, trauma. 


Going back on the ice was out of the picture for Nicole, but the sports-loving girl in her continued to look for other outlets that would allow her to train, compete, and shine outside of academics. 


"I've always loved animals, my family is really into animals. So I thought, why don't I get into a sport with animals? Then there was horseback riding! I started [in Manila] first, stayed for a year, then I went all the way to Lipa, Batangas to train—then I fell in love. I began riding, and riding, and riding. That's how it started," she narrates.


It's a love for a sport that started and could never possibly end, given this 14-year-old's dedication to it. 


Since that fateful trip to Batangas, Nicole has never looked back and has re-structured her priorities to make room for her equestrian career—so much so that she even went on a mission to convince her father to allow her to become a home school student in order for her to be able to devote more time to training and caring for her own horses herself. 


"From 8 in the morning to noon, it's school. And from 1 onwards, it's riding... I sometimes get upset when I see polo riders who would ride horses without putting in the work—when they get on, get off, they just leave [their horses] and don't actually know what their horses want. I do that, and I would do it every day if I could," Nicole shares. 


"My dream is to even have a farm, not even to have a house, but to have a farm!" she jokingly adds, suggesting that all she truly wants to concentrate on is carving a name for herself as an accomplished equestrian. 


But lest you assume that this is simply a phase for her and the tides will soon change as she gets older, now is a good time to rethink your opinions of her.


There's a reason why Nicole values the sport so deeply. Sure, there's adrenaline that comes with riding, joy in forming a bond with animals, and pride in being one of the country's very few horse riders, but above all that, Nicole's passion for the sport stems from how it has completely transformed her. 


Responsibility, sociability, and self-management are just some of the things she discovered throughout the process of caring for her five horses (she has four in the Philippines and one abroad) and she admits to being a typical adolescent without a care in the world, pre-horse riding. 


"Before, I used to be so lazy in school, but now I'm more [outgoing] instead of just being in the house. I'm actually dedicating myself to something now," says Nicole, noting how she's surpassed many of her peers in terms of maturity. There are times she says when her friends don't understand why horse riding takes up so much of her time. It can be tough to have only a few people relate to her on this level, but that's what her teammates and coaches are there for. 


Just as Minxie and Alex will tell you, Nicole has found a home with the Philippines' equestrian team that allows riders of different age groups and backgrounds to form unique friendships, a home that's drawn out some of her most beautiful qualities that she didn't even realize she had until the sport. 


She's a great rider on her own, but having them around has definitely been an invaluable source of encouragement, too. 


Her family, her team's coach Joker, and accomplished Filipino equestrian Colin Syquia have all been part of her young career's first brushes with success, but if what Nicole has accomplished is any indication of how she'll perform as a full-fledged, professional horse rider, great things are to come. 


She's the reigning Manila Polo Club Junior Jumping Rider of the Year and Junior Dressage Rider of the Year, a fierce contender for the Malaysian counterpart she'll be going up against this coming Sunday. 


Altogether, Nicole believes that the Philippine team is a strong one. She'll do her best alongside her teammates and at the end of the day, find fulfillment in being able to do what it is she loves the most: riding horses and continuing to work towards a promising future of professional horse riding. 


Nicole Camcam | Photo by Jar Concengco


Rider: Lara Zobel, 35

Horse: Versicolore


35-year-old Lara Zobel makes sure she balances training and competing in equestrian (locally and internationally) with being a mom of three. Interestingly, her eldest, 5-year-old Olivia, is currently taking riding lessons, too.

 

“It's pretty tough to balance it but I try to do all my riding in the morning while they're all at school. and When they're home from school, I really try to make the afternoons and the evenings for them. I also leave to compete and train in Europe every couple of months. So I'm leaving again in October 2, and I'll be gone for about three weeks. I spend as much time with them while I'm here,” she explains.

 

Lara's fascination with horseback riding started at a young age. She vividly remembers that her interest developed into love as her family would go on vacations in Baguio, where she would always find herself in Wright Park.

 

Just being around horses brought her so much joywhat more to ride one?! It was an amazing feeling she has continuously longed for, and to this day, the happiness she felt the first time she tried horseback riding never quite left her.   


Years later and she prides herself in a dossier that includes achievements such as the opportunity to compete individually in international level competitions in France with trainer Thibault Trassard, with a spectacular 3rd place finish recently at the 130 cm grand prix in La Motte on her 10-year-old Selle Francais, Versicolore, and a 1st place finish in the 120 cm class at CSI Am Sainte Cecile.


As a rider, she emphasizes the importance of being physically fit for the sport, which is why she takes her fitness routine seriously. This includes running and Pilates. “I always try and keep really fit,” she shares.  “So I do Pilates about three times a week, and I also do gym training one or two times a week. And then on days when I don't have gym or Pilates, I try to get myself to run for about 10 minutes, or do a brisk walk, and then I kind of do a little bit of exercises like ab and core workouts.”

 

Lara competes up to the 130 cm to 135 cm level, but for Equestrian PH's inaugural Riders Tour, she is in the 110 cm category. For about six years, she would travel regularly to France, where she does majority of her training and competitions. Last year, she competed at La Baule, her biggest show so far, and the experience was nothing short of spectacular. 

 

“La Baule is a CSIO 5* Nation Cup Show. I only did the 1-star, I didn't do that level. It's in a beautiful arena. It was nice to be competing. I mean, not against the top riders in the world, but just being able to see them, she how they train, see what they do in the warm up. It had a different vibe to it. That was a really nice show, and I was able to place every single day of that show for three days straight,” shares Lara.


Lara has also participated several times in Fontainbleau in France.


With all the she's done and continues to do, she sure serves as an inspiration to her fellow riders and even the aspiring ones. As for Lara, her riding influences have got to be Marcus Ehning and Jessica Springsteen. 


“The hard thing when riding is being able to keep one rhythm throughout the entire course, but he's just a master,” she says of Marcus.


On social media, she likes to follow Jessica because “...she makes [the sport] look really, really trendy. She's always ahead of the fashion. She always looks so put together. She rides really well. Her position's really good.”

 

It's like every day Lara finds something new to love and appreciate about the sport. Though accomplished, she acknowledges there's still so much she has to learn. But hey, learning is fun, especially when the subject is something one is extremely passionate about. For Lara, considering the career she has already established, there's really no other way but forward. Soon, this sport will even mean much more to her, when it's her daughter who's already out there on her horse; she'll be her number one fan.  


Lara Zobel | Photo by Jar Concengco


Rider: Paola Lorenzo, 19

Horse: Rubis Landais


Paola Lorenzo is one busy teen. She is a sophomore student at the Ateneo de Manila University, taking up Management Engineering, and she also happens to be one of the most successful local riders. She is currently the Manila Polo Club Jumping Rider of the Year. She has also represented the Philippines at the Hong Kong–CSI Juniors in 2018, placing 3rd, and at the Asian Equestrian Federation 3rd Junior Championships in 2018.  


Paola’s interest in horseback riding was influenced by her three older brothers who also used to compete. She realized her deep love for the sport when she won her first show at Manila Polo Club. 


She really liked the feeling of winning, saying, "I realized that the first time I actually won a show, I really like that feeling and I've always wanted to have that feeling so I continued it.”


Despite the challenges that come with balancing studies and riding,  she is unfazed, for she knows her priorities well and maintains discipline all the time. Equestrian helps keep her grounded and always on her toes. “I guess it's because of the lessons I learn from horses. Each horse would teach me a different lesson. They also teach me to be grounded, because you never know what will happen with horses. They're so unpredictable. Anytime, something can happen,” she answers.


Paola adds, “Riding gives you the excitement and suspense that other sports can't, like anything can happen. It's the best feeling when you're jumping." It's a unique experience, too, because you're not alone, you have a partner in your horse. 


Riding is rewarding, but there's a lot of effort that need to be put in. It takes time to do a great job in it. One has to really work hard to see incredible results. And  so, whether or not there is a show she needs to prepare for, Paola continues to train. In fact, she has been flying to Germany to train as a rider since she was 13.


"Basically, when you're training the horse, you just want the horse to go around, listening to you. So when you put your leg on, the horse has to know to go forward or when you take it back, the horse has to know that he has to slow down. Everything has to happen so quick,” Paola explains, illustrating the much-needed chemistry and connection the rider and her horse must have for a smooth and enjoyable ride. 


In the future, she dreams of representing the Philippines at the Southeast Asian Games, Asian Games, or Olympic Games. With Paola having the talent, the right attitude, and the determination to win, these dreams could become realities sooner than she expected. 

 

Paola Lorenzo | Photo by Jar Concengco


Text by Sara de los Reyes and Angelica Tordesillas

Photographs by Jar Concengco