I was a very dedicated equestrian in high school. Won lots of ribbons competing in hunter/jumpers and dressage. So of course it follows that I’ve made fast friends with the horsey crowd here in Bangkok.
I’ve done some jumping at the local sports club, gone to Pattaya to try polo and most recently visited Khaoyai to gallop Andalusian stallions through tapioca and corn fields. What a treat!
First, Khaoyai. It’s 2.5 hours drive from Bangkok, the latest hot spot for the second and third home market. We visited Farm Mor Por, which has more than 70 horses, most notably an impressive collection of Andalusian and Friesian stallions. The horses belong to Dr. Nopadol Saropala, a very successful English-trained OBGYN doctor whose hobby is horses. He keeps dozens of mares, foals and a few miniature horses on his farm, which doubles as his weekend home.
For 1,500 baht, or about $50, we rode for nearly two hours along farm roads and in between fields. To my surprise, the stallions all got along fine, like brothers, so long as there wasn’t a mare in sight.
Because I wanted an exciting ride, I asked to ride the fastest and most energetic of their Andalusians. Truth be told, when I hopped onto Goffo, aka Mr. Fidgety, I at first regretted my choice for a challenge. Goffo couldn’t stand still and had to be walked around a little paddock while we waited for the others to mount up. I was sure I’d be eating dirt before the end of the ride.
Luckily, despite his high stepping spirit, he didn’t try to dump me, although he did give a little buck for joy when I let him out on a gallop for the first time. It was raining a bit before our ride, so by the end of the trail ride, I was covered in mud chunks kicked up by the horse in front of me. Despite the soggy weather, my friend Nan and I had a grand old time. We plan to try it again next month before I leave.
I tried my hand at polo for the first time here, too. Pattaya, about 1.5 hours outside of the city, is home to several private clubs.
I rode at Thai Polo Club. It has three gorgeous fields and wonderful Argentinian-bred polo ponies. Their gaits are so smooth and the horses smart enough to know how to run alongside the ball so that even this rookie managed to get off a few good whacks.
Amusingly, the horses turn their heads to the left when you’re about to take a swing (they know the stick is coming around and don’t want to get thwacked). I loved every minute of it, although the actual time on a horse was a bit short. It’s quite expensive, too — 4,000 baht, or $125 an hour. They don’t call it the “sport of kings” for nothing.
Finding all these horsey-friends started at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club’s Polo Club. Through Dominic (Princeton friend, we’re staying at his condo), we met his uncle who is a major domo there.
The club’s name is a misnomer, as it’s not really about polo anymore — that was 20 years ago. They converted the original polo field into two mini soccer pitches and the centerpiece of the clubhouse is a giant lawn bowling green.
It’s more a social club with chess rooms, snooker rooms (only men allowed in one of the snooker rooms), two pools, tennis courts and workout facilities. I watched some guys playing singles tennis and there were ball boys fetching their net balls. Oh to be a tennis player at this club!
But back to the horses. The stable is a concrete two-story 80-horse barn with electric fans for every horse to keep the mosquitoes away and to help them cope with the heat, and four smallish covered arenas — all for the high maka maka of Bangkok.
The club takes up 28 acres in the center of the city near Lumpini Park, prime real estate. The exclusive location is not that surprising, given that the ruling elite in Thailand as a whole are quite wealthy and largely have major monopolies on their industries, including vertical monopolies. Example: The biggest beer brewer in Bangkok also owns the country’s only bottle producing factory, so if you want to enter the business as a brewer, you have to buy his bottles. The market for microbrewers is also a tough nut to crack here, we’re told, because the politicians have passed laws mandating that all brewers produce a certain large quantity of beer before they can distribute. Stifling competition, much?
Because we are foreign passport holders, with a sponsor, we were able to get temporary day memberships at the sports club for about 1,000 baht (US$33). Foreigners are allowed 2 day memberships per month. So that meant I got to take two horse lessons my first week!
The strangest thing for me was that no one saddles up their own horses. The stables employ full time grooms for that, and those grooms either wear flip-flops or go barefoot. (That’s a big no-no around metal-hoofed horses in most places, but hey, it’s Thailand.)
There are five school horses, including a 5-year-old mostly untrained beautiful black Friesian with a lovely high step. During a group lesson, I got the occasionally-crazy Arab-Quarter horse roan paint named Rocky. For the record, after five too many dumpings as a teenager by Malia, the first school horse that I showed and jumped at Circle Z ranch, I really dislike Arab-quarter horse mixes. They’re prickly little poops! It is the Arab in them, however un PC that sounds. Horse people would understand what I’m saying. The breed is known for being…temperamental.
Rocky was quite lazy at first so I whacked him a few times in the beginning and he woke up. He’s also known for taking off with people and bucking. He tried it with me, pulled his head down in the canter and gave a little kick and tried to run for it. Testing me! I turned him in a circle and pushed him up into the bit making it hard for him to pull his head down. He didn’t try to buck again after that. I definitely made Rocky earn his dinner that night. I did too, I was soaking wet afterwards, humidity here is pretty rough, even at 6 pm.
The Swedish riding instructor here was complimentary, though I seem to have issues keeping my heels down these days. I came back a few days later to ride a horse that can jump, a 17-hand Thoroughbred-Warmblood mare. It was an even hotter day and my legs aren’t what they used to be. She kept breaking out of the canter around the corners. We jumped just a little, two tiny X’s. Too hot to do much more. But all this riding sure makes me miss all the great rides and shows I did as a teen.
I put together a little home video of my various equestrian adventures here. It’s my first official attempt at cutting multiple videos together, so please excuse the rough cuts and shaky hands. My riding posture has taken a hit over the years too, it’s been awhile! But hope you still enjoy watching:
Here’s a collection of pictures, too.