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Equestrian Bahamas Growing Vibrantly By Leaps And Bounds

SINCE the formation of the Equestrian Bahamas after the defunct of the BANEF, president Catherine Ramsingh-Pierre and her executive team have been working arduously to make the sport one of the more vibrant ones in the country.

After the defunct of the BANEF in the late 1980s as the national equestrian federation, which included former members like Janet Brown, Sarah Lobosky and Ginny Oakey-McKinney, Equestrian Bahamas, formed by a dedicated and diverse group of Bahamians committed to advancing equestrian in the Bahamas, was launched in September 2013.

It was recognised by the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture and the Bahamas Olympic Committee as the National Equestrian of the Bahamas. EB went on to become a ratified member of the Federation Equetre International (FEI) in November, 2019.

Ramsingh-Pierre, who got involved as a rider and as a parent of an aspiring rider, serves on the current board that includes Elizabeth Williams, Erika Adderley-Coello, Peter Vlasov and Rebecca Cafferata. While she serves as president, Williams is the vice president. Bonnie Davis is the secretary general and Sarina Sands-Wong is the treasurer.

“It became clear to me when I travelled abroad taking my son to competitions that our local riders and trainers needed broader exposure,” said Ramsignh-Pierre, on her reason for getting involved. “Our riders needed more competitive opportunities and to accomplish all this, the sport needed to be affiliated with our international body.

“There were others who felt the same way. When initial attempts to revive the previous federation were unsuccessful, I proposed that we start from scratch. As a group, we articulated our mission, reached out to important stakeholders and supporters, drafted the necessary documents, including a formalised rule book, recruited membership and placed an emphasis on building the sport from the grassroot up and we were off and running.”

At present, EB does not have a place of operation, but Ramsignh-Pierre said they take advantage of the 21st century organisation where they collaborate through social media where officers and committee members share information in real time, conducting their business and remain accessible through a combination of online platforms, video and telecommunications. However, whenever necessary, they host in-person meetings.

With an average age of 14 years of the estimated 60 competitors, which represents about 75 per cent of their membership, Ramsingh-Pierre said they are always looking at expanding from persons who are committed and dedicated to learning how to ride.

“Riding is a very equipment-specific sport, but our lesson programmes do a great job of providing the necessary equipment for beginner riders,” said Ramsingh-Pierre of their beginners programme that range in ages from 7-10, but they also have adults and children as young as four expressing an interest to learn to compete in the sport.

“The most important things are certified protective headgear and of course a suitable horse.

“Once riders begin to enter competitions, more formal competitive attire will be needed.”

So far, the sport has made tremendous strides, both locally and internationally, but Ramsingh-Pierre said they are just scratching the surface with the performances of their competitors, including the latest accomplishments by Millie Vlasov in her clean sweep of the three events she competed in last week in France.

“Our team of five riders travelled to Georgia this past February, winning four first, one second and two thirds out of eight classes was a huge accomplishment, especially given that for all but one of the riders, it was their first time competing out of the country,” Ramsingh-Pierre stated.

“Hearing the Bahamian national anthem played after Millie Vlasov’s win in France last week was incredibly moving.

“All of these accomplishments embody the realisation of our goals as a federation. However, in fairness, I would have to say that the biggest accomplishment by any single competitor thus far has been our endurance rider Reine Pagiliaro, who won the 2019 North American Young Rider Endurance Championships, and will represent the Bahamas at the Junior World Championships in the Netherlands in 2021.”

Those achievements have left Ramsingh-Pierre bubbling over with excitement as they continue to raise the awareness of their athletes and to establish equestrian as a meaningful sport choice for Bahamian youth.

“Our goals continue to be what they have always been - to facilitate a technically solid foundation for the sport locally; to provide fun, meaningful and affordable aces to competitive and educational opportunities for our junior athletes, and to support Bahamian equestrian athletes abroad who are competing at higher levels of international competition,” Ramsingh-Pierre said of EB’s goals and projections for the future.

“I am inspired by the achievements of our coaches and riders at all levels of the sport. My projection is that we will continue to enjoy success in every one of these areas.”

As Equestrian Bahamas strides forward, Ramsingh-Pierre said their main goal is to be able to qualify for one or all three disciplines at the Olympic Games, taking into consideration that their riders will have to go through their qualifying process just like the other sports, in the case of equestrian, the Pan American Games as well as special FEI qualifier events, which may be held at different times.

“In jumping, for example, qualifier courses must be of a certain technical level with fences at certain minimum heights and widths, and riders must finish within certain times and fault parameters,” Ramsingh-Pierre said.

“Individual world rankings can also play a part when qualifying for individual spots in the Olympics. Remember also that this is a two-athlete sport, horses and riders must qualify as a combination, so it goes without saying that just being a good rider is not enough. You also need a talented horse.”

Although sports is currently in a dilemma due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ramsingh-Pierre said their riders overseas have already resumed competition.

But she noted that their parent body has been very helpful in providing guidance as to how to safely conduct their sport as they move forward in the ‘new normal.’

“Here at home, we expect things to look different, not so much in the substantive elements of the sport, but in the way that we hold competitions, clinics and other community initiatives,” Ramsingh-Pierre stated.

“Our sport is naturally performed at a ‘social distance’ - it is just the horse and the rider.

“Our challenge will be in finding ways to keep our support community of parents and sponsors engaged while adhering to the safety protocols of social distancing,” Ramsingh-Pierre explained.

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