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Show Jumping 101: A Conversation With Philippine Record Holder Joker Arroyo

This SEA Games medalist and national team veteran clues us in on the nuances of show jumping as a sport

“I just love animals. From the day I was born, I’ve just loved animals. I had more dogs than I had friends. I wanted to spend more time with my dogs than with anyone else,” says Joker Arroyo, the Philippines’ record holder for the Puissance event which she won with her horse, Without A Doubt, in 2005.

A very shy little girl, Arroyo found comfort in her pets. A natural development of this passion for this animal lover is to be drawn to horses. “I was too young to start having riding lessons before I was seven because you have to know [your] left [from your] right, and you have to have the physical strength, but I was already riding. When we were in Tagaytay, I’d insist to ride the ponies there. When we were in Baguio, I’d insist to ride the ponies there, [too], and the bigger [the horse], the better. I started formal riding lessons when I was seven. There was a riding school in Alabang then, which is now closed. It was run by Denise Cojuangco. It was a really lovely facility. Of course, my parents thought, every girl likes to ride ponies, and that it was just a phase. 'When she gets older, she’ll grow out of it, and it won’t be a big deal,’ but twenty-five years later, we’re still here,” Joker shares.

The early days of Joker's riding career. Here she was photographed with her father, the late Senator Joker Arroyo | Photo from @jokeraarroyo

Through her development as an equestrienne, the years have since seen her riding in various other places: BF, The Manila Polo Club, and eventually, as her studies brought her abroad, internationally.  “Europe is the heart of top level, most accessible, where people ride to cut their teeth, where people ride at an elite level is in Europe,” says Joker. This pursuit has first brought her to the Netherlands in 2010, where she was a working student. She then moved to France, where she worked as a rider for a trainer in the Côte d'Azur region, before relocating to Normandy. She then spent some time in Belgium. Currently, her home base is East of Paris, where she rides with her trainer, Guillaume Batillat.

Joker at Ecurie Guillaume Batillat, her training base in La Houssaye-en-Brie, France | Photo from @jokeraarroyo

Show Jumping
Joker explains the nuances of show jumping as a sport, “The three main Olympic disciplines of the equestrian sport are: dressage, which is like the ballet of horses; eventing, which combines dressage, show jumping, and cross country, which is when they do jumping over natural obstacles over an extended distance.  Show jumping is when you jump over fences. There is a course of 12-14 fences, and set layout that you have to follow. The basic principle is the person who completes that course with the least amount of faults, wins. Every time you have a course, every time you get to a show, the course is different. It’s not the same course where you can practice every time so that’s what makes it difficult. Every time you have a fence down, it’s four faults. Every time you have a stop, it’s four faults, and if you stop two times, you are eliminated. When you stop, it’s called a refusal. Those are the faults. If you fall, you are automatically eliminated. In the event of equality of faults, for example, when multiple riders are clear, then you have what you call a jump-off. It is calculated based on faults and time. So the least number of faults and the fastest round wins. It is usually over a shortened course."

Horses are animals. They sense everything. You can’t lie to them. So how you are on the horse, I feel, is the most real version of who you are as a person

The Local Scene
Show jumping is an evolving sport. “It’s not the same as ten years ago. It’s not the same as five years ago. It’s not even the same as a year ago,” Joker tells Metro.Style. To help the sport grow locally, Joker is very passionate about bringing home the lessons she learned abroad. “I try to be as exigent with them as my own trainer is with me. Every time I go away, I try to bring back something. I impress upon them certain things,” she shares.

With a group of like-minded equestrians, she is now a part of Equestrian Philippines, Inc. (Equestrian PH), an umbrella organization that runs events for riders and conducts clinics with  foreign instructors and brings in top international horse management professionals. This organization proved to be important in order to fill the need locally, and to create opportunities for local riders and enhance the level of competition to an international standard. 

For Equestrian PH's upcoming inaugural Riders Tour this September 29, 2019 at Manila Polo Club, Joker shares, “We are bringing in a team from Malaysia, and these are riders [our local riders have] never seen before. Otherwise, it becomes routine. Every time they do a weekend, it’s the same competition, the same venue. It doesn’t expand your vision of the sport. It’s easy to be the big fish in the small pond. You need to have a more global view of the sport, not just a local view.”

She continues, “Many are enthusiastic, but it’s a question to make them understand what kind of training program is ideal for them, what kind of horse is ideal for them, what correct horse management is all about. We want to share that with them. Every day, I feel it as an athlete myself. From year to year, the sport has evolved. The sport is changing.  It’s important that we ourselves stay up to date with that so that when we come back and impart this information to the people who want to ride here, it’s current. It’s relevant so that they, too, can impart it.”

It’s easy to be the big fish in the small pond. You need to have a more global view of the sport, not just a local view

From left: Minxie Romualdez, Lara Zobel, Alex Ynares-Villalon, Joker Arroyo, Nicole Camcam, Paola Lorenzo, and Mohamed El Akkad | Photo by Jar Concengco

To sum it up, Joker advocates equestrian sports for its ability to teach children certain formative values. “It teaches you empathy. It teaches you the value of working as a team: you and your horse.  You, your groom and your horse… The horse has to understand you. You have to understand it, and you have to work together. And all of that is, of course, in tandem with the groom of the horse, the farrier, the veterinarian. These teach a great deal of patience and discipline. But of course, the commitment, the desire for perfectionall sports, if you want to do them well, teach that. This isn't necessarily unique to equestrian…"

"I think what makes equestrian particularly unique is that component of working with your horse. It’s a much more feeling sport. And there’s a lot more emotion involved because I think that love of the horse is obviously unique to each person. Every person loves a horse in their own way, but it comes from there. The extent to which you can do it well comes from how much you’re willing to commit because this isn’t a sport where the progress is exponential…"

"You have to accept the defeats as well as the victories, and they all combine together to make you better in the end. It teaches you a lot of humility, patience, determination. It’s very formative of your character. Horses are animals. They sense everything. You can’t lie to them. So how you are on the horse, I feel, is the most real version of who you are as a person.”

READ: Equestrian PH Brings The Best In Horsemanship And Equine Care In The Philippines

READ: 4 Things We Can Learn From Marivi Camcam, The Mom Of A Young And Promising Equestrienne

READ: Philippines vs Malaysia: Equestrian Philippines To Stage Inaugural Riders Tour

Visit Metro.Style again to know more about Equestrian PH and its upcoming inaugural Riders Tour.

Photos from @jokeraarroyo