Well-known for her flair in fashion as well as her talent in sports, HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, the younger daughter of HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, will once again demonstrate her sporting prowess when she represents Thailand at the 27th Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar at the end of this year. This time, the Princess will be part of the national equestrian team, competing in the dressage category. In the past, the Princess also represented Thailand as part of the badminton team competing in the 23rd and 24th games.
Dressage derives from the French word for "training" and the competition requires the rider and horse to perform a series of difficult movements, as in a gymnastics competition. The talented Princess has demonstrated her exceptional control in horseback riding in this category and triumphed in the Thailand Championship King's Cup 2012, riding her horse Kaneol to the tune of Madonna's Vogue.
Beyond the sports arena, the Princess has demonstrated her versatility in other creative areas, such as in fashion. In 2007, she presented her collection at Elle Fashion Week, revamping the traditional Thai costume to create sophisticated modern looks, using classic oriental patterns and gold and red mixed with inspiration from Pierre Balmain, of whom she's a devotee.
Despite the hard work that her equestrian training requires, the Princess balances her time and exhibits exceptional finesse in all her works. Her new couture collection will be coming out in the near future, but right now, she is concentrating on the competition at hand. For the Myanmar Southeast Asian Games, the Thai national team will be competing in three different categories: endurance, dressage, and show jumping. Each category is divided into team and individual competitions, with a chance to win six gold medals.
At a recent press conference, the Princess graciously talked about her current passion, her training in France, and how she's learned to cope with stress.
How did you get back into equestrianism?
I started riding when I was nine, before I started playing badminton. I always liked horseback riding as a child, but I was still a kid and didn't know what I loved. I followed 'Ong Pa' [HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha], who was riding at the time. Then I got bored and turned to badminton, as you know. After that, I went abroad and studied fashion. I have works coming out next year.
In my social circle abroad, people always talk about fashion, art, and sports at the dining table. In France, people love football, equestrianism and judo. Judo is pretty popular in France. There, I rediscovered my skills in horseback riding. I was invited to go riding in Bordeaux, the wine country.
I got to know the horses, got a sense for horseback riding that I hadn't known when I was younger. When I came back to Thailand, I worked with the team I worked with when I was younger. From the beginning, 'Kru Sam' [Col Fuangvich Aniruth-Deva] said equestrianism isn't easy. There is no shortcut.
So I started in Thailand again. I always try to do everything to the best of my ability. I didn't want to just do it for fun. If I'm curious about something, I have to know every aspect of it, become good at it, and know it deeply and widely. I looked into furthering my training abroad. It was either England or France and since I had been studying in France, I decided to go back there.
I was done studying fashion and I started riding.
Why do you like riding horses?
Equestrianism is a fair sport. It requires balance. It's a fair game. Men and women compete against each other.
There's no age limit. In the 2012 Olympics in London, there was a 70- year-old Japanese competitor. For me, horseback riding is a 'lover' sport. It's a partnership. We meet halfway; we have to understand one another. If I don't control the horse, it will control me. A horse is like a woman or a man. It has tempers. We have to 'talk' it out.
It's an art. Riding a horse is like dancing. It's like fashion. I have to design the moves. It's like I'm making art in a different way.
It's a sport where I have to compete with myself. I have to think and motivate myself, and plan strategies. I have to trust the horse.
How long did you train abroad for?
Ten months. It took about a year actually. I broke my foot. I was sitting in a wheelchair to go to Paragon. It took about six months to fully recover. I had three knots in my left foot and was undergoing physical therapy. I recovered in time to compete abroad.
How are you preparing yourself for the Southeast Asian Games?
I'm training myself physically. I started by swimming. I got back into training after my injury. I run 4-5km a day. I exercise, train my muscles, practise my balance and concentration. I just got back from abroad yesterday and I started riding right away. It all has to do with contact.
I also have to practise with less well-trained horses, new horses, horses I'm not familiar with [because the games require competitors to use the horses provided, assigning them through a lucky draw]. It does take time to fine-tune our connection. Sometimes, the horse is like, 'You're a princess, but I don't care'. In the competition, you have a short time to get used to the horse. If you can't do that, you are out.
What goals have you set for yourself?
I don't set goals. That stresses me out too much. I just want to get into the competition. I don't want to pressure myself but I think about doing the best, getting in good physical shape, learning to concentrate.
With this training, sometimes I get really frustrated working with new horses. I have to take a step back, let someone else ride and study it from ground level. I talk to the team and strategise, then get back on the horse again.
This is my first games. It's not the Olympics, the grand prix. I can't compete with my own horse. I'm just concentrating on this immediate challenge right now and not looking that far forward into the future.
How do you concentrate?
I spend a lot of time by myself, getting to know myself. I draw and paint a lot. I design. After riding I put on my headphones and listen to music. If I ride and get tired, I go to sleep. I exercise a little before I go to sleep. Talking and socialising all the time is tiring as well. I know myself better now; my thresholds and limits.
I'm looking at my future. I'm 27 now and have to become serious. It shouldn't go far beyond horseback riding and fashion. Regarding future competitions, I'm only looking at [the games] right now. We'll see the results of this. I'll take it step by step. I'm staying in the present.
The Princess practising her technique.