Teen the first S'porean to make it into finals for international competition

MGS student Janine Khoo, 16, is making waves in the international equestrian community, having trained seriously only in 2011.

SINGAPORE - She started training seriously for jumping competitions only in 2011, but already, student Janine Khoo is making waves in the international equestrian arena.

The 16-year-old came in fourth at the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Jumping Challenge Final 2013, held in Venezuela last month.

It was the first time a rider from Singapore qualified for the (FEI) international competition since its inception in 2001.

A self-professed perfectionist, Janine told The New Paper before the competition started that she was hoping to draw a "good horse" for the jumping challenge. Competitors draw lots for their horses for the competition.

"I not only want to clear the course but to clear it well. And I was lucky to get the best and we worked well together," said the teen, who is also one of the top Secondary 4 students at Methodist Girls' School.

Her main priority is to ensure that the horses she rides "stay in top shape and do not get hurt". On her mount, After Eight Z, Janine topped the group of 12 riders going into the semi-finals and she subsequently ranked third among the four riders who made it to the final.

Unfortunately, she fell in the third round of the final, which put her out of contention for the medal.

Janine was one of two youngest of the 21 riders from 16 countries. The other was Tunisian Amel Meziane, also 16.

And for the first time in the history of the Finals, half the participants were aged between 16 and 20. Among them were 11 girls.

FEI's Solidarity Director Jacqueline Braissant said "they (the younger riders) showed a very high quality of riding".

Ms Monique Heah, honorary secretary of the Equestrian Federation of Singapore, said Janine's talent and "great feel for the sport" got her this far in a very short time.

"Not only is she committed, (she is) also hard-working and picks up pointers very quickly," she added.

"But more importantly, she has very supportive parents, who, despite the fact that Janine is taking her O levels this year, continue to fly her abroad so she could compete."

Janine's parents pay for all her flights and accommodation for competitions.

Before leaving for Venezuela, Janine was third overall - on school horse L E Lucky - in the 110cm category at the Singapore National Jumping Finals 2013.

She came in second on her own horse Chateau du Lys in the 120cm category. 

Despite her wins, Janine remained grounded and her father, Mr Khoo Teng Cheong, a 48-year-old banker, made sure of this.

"She has to take care of the horses herself and she does. She ices their legs after each training session and competition," he said.

Mr Khoo understands and fully supports his daughter's commitment to the sport, having been a former national swimmer himself and Sportsboy of the Year in 1978-79.

Early start

He said his daughter's love for horses started when she was only two.

"I was posted to New York then and she always wanted to go to Central Park and ride the carriages," he said.

"We thought she loved bouncing up and down, but little did we know, she went often just to look at the horses."

Janine learnt to ride at the age of seven, when the family moved to Shanghai, but she got down to training seriously only in 2011.

Added Mr Khoo: "She said she wanted to be a veterinarian when she grows up and I can see her being one, specialising in horses."

Janine will head to Germany next week for her last overseas competition.

Next month, she will be one of six riders at the National Day Parade, a first for Singapore horses and riders.

Janine has set her sights on the Youth Olympic Games 2014 in Nanjing, China, and will compete in the qualifying rounds in September. Only after that will she be getting off the saddle to buckle down and concentrate on her studies.