SEA Games: A high-flyer, in every sense

If you don't want to fall, don't get on the horse.

That is the common advice given to budding horse riders.

The occasional tumble and scrapes and bruises are all part of the discipline.

Equestrian rider Janine Khoo, though, had it worse.

Almost two months ago, she smashed her cheekbone, which resulted in reconstructive surgery, requiring the insertion of four titanium plates and a wire mesh to restore the face, as well as 21 stitches.

That was 10 days before the 16-year-old's first O-level paper.

Today, she's back on her horse with the support of her parents, and chomping at the bit to get cracking at the 27th South-east Asia (SEA) Games, which officially opens in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, tomorrow.

"I love it so much and nothing makes me happier," she told The New Paper, after a training session at the National Equestrian Centre recently.

"I can't imagine life without riding a horse.

"When I was two, we lived in New York and I loved the weekly carousel rides at Central Park. It wasn't so much the carousel, but I was captivated by the horses.

"We then moved to Shanghai where I had my first riding lesson when I was six.

"We returned to Singapore and I was 11 when I started to compete in showjumping, clearing low fences on ponies."

There was no hint of trauma as the bubbly teenager recounted her worst riding accident.

"We were trying to clear two fences, but after jumping the first, the horse swerved before the second fence," she recalled.

FACE FIRST

"I was thrown off face-first into the frame of the fence and all I can remember is it was really painful.

"I'm allergic to Panadol and so I was without painkillers for a few hours.

"Later, the surgeon said it was like picking eggshells from my fractured cheekbone and the bones around my right eye.

"Thank God there was no damage to my eye and teeth."

The doctors did such a remarkable job that there were no obvious signs of damage to her face.

The start of the O levels was a different matter, though.

Said Janine: "It definitely affected my revision because I lost a couple of days due to the accident and I was woozy from the medicine.

"I studied the best I could and, thankfully, I was granted extra time to complete my papers because I couldn't even write straight on the line."

Janine is aiming for a medal in the showjumping team event at her first SEA Games.

The former Methodist Girls' School student has already tasted success in international competition over the last 12 months.

In July, she partnered a local rider to victory in Germany at the Sparkassen German Friendship Games International Team Competition Juniors.

In June, Janine was the first Singaporean to make it into the Federation Equestre Internationale World Jumping Challenge Final since its inception in 2001, finishing fourth out of 21 riders.

National coach Roy Ibrahim said of his young charge: "She's talented, dedicated, disciplined, and she's got a good feel for horse-riding.

"What is rare is I can put her on any horse and she will be able to manage.

"Pending official confirmation, Janine has qualified for next year's Youth Olympic Games. She is also trying to get into next year's Asian Games and I think she has the potential to do well."

Janine was in MGS's gifted programme and played softball for the school.

She was a student leader, plays the clarinet and once performed at Carnegie Hall with a full orchestra.

Clearly, she is a high-achiever who knows what she wants.

She owns two horses, Chipie and Chateau, but teams at the SEA Games will be riding borrowed horses.

Unfazed, Janine simply said: "We will try our best to win a medal but it all depends on the horses we get over there and how quickly we adapt."

EQUESTRIAN FACTFILE

Name: Janine Khoo

Date of birth: Aug 12, 1997

Height: 1.66m

Weight: 52kg

Favourite food: Cheese

Favourite athletes: Marcus Ehning and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (both equestrians)

Pet peeve: Receiving fragmented SMSes on a specific issue instead of a complete message.

Did you know? Janine's father is former national swimmer Khoo Teng Cheong, who was Sportsboy of the Year in 1978 and 1979.


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