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Malaysia’s Horse Whisperer


NOW, why would a septuagenarian, who quit the equestrian scene 10 years ago, want to get back on the saddle and compete in a 100-mile race?

For 72-year-old former world No. 1 equestrian rider Datuk Kamarud­din Abdul Ghani, it’s all about sending a message to the new generation.

“It’s not just about me riding again. Over the last five decades, I’ve competed in polo, show jumping, dressage and all distances in endurance races – from 40km to 240km.

“I’ve raced in the mountains, desert, jungle, hills and under all kinds of terrain and weather in different parts of the world. I’ve done it all. Now, I want the next generation of riders to go one level higher.

“I want to go around the country’s many riding places. I want to see them all flourish – from managing the stables to organising events and producing talents.

“We have good riders. We saw that during the recent KL SEA Games. But I want them to rise to another level,” said Kamaruddin, who intends to complete the Grand Slam of endurance by riding the 100-mile race in the Tevies Cup in Nevada, United States, next year.

He has already done two other 100-mile races – the Endurance Race in Florac, France, and the Tom Quilty Endurance in Tasmania, Australia, in the late 1990s.

Kamaruddin, who is fondly known as Awang and who became the oldest Malaysian to win the endurance gold medal at the 2001 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur at the age of 56, hopes that his return would also get people excited about the sport again.

His love for equestrian began at a very young age and he went from being a simple kampung boy in Pekan, Pahang, to mastering everything about the horse business – from riding, breeding, racing, teaching, organising and managing to designing and building training and competition grounds.

“I was fascinated with horses after watching shows like The Lone Ranger and I began riding horses when I was 10 years old,” he said.

“I was fortunate because I lived in Pekan, near the palace, and I attended the same school as the Sultan’s children. By the time I was in my 20s, I was already playing polo.”

Kamaruddin, who has a diploma in teaching, moved to the Selangor Polo Club in 1973 in search of more opportunities and challenges.

Riding strong: Datuk Kamaruddin Abdul Ghani will compete in the 100-mile Tevies Cup endurance race in Nevada, United States, next year. — YAP CHEE HONG / The Star

He pioneered the setting up of the Equestrian Association of Malaysia (EAM) and that allowed Malaysia to take part in all the FEI (International Equestrian Federation)-sanctioned tournaments.

“There were not many riders then but we were still able to send teams for polo and the combined horse jumping and dressage event at the 1983 Singapore SEA Games. We won the polo gold and rode on borrowed horses to win bronze in the combined event,” he said.

He then went to Australia and competed in many endurance races.

“I got better and started winning races,” he said.

He then shifted his base to France, where he owned 20 horses and continued to be a force to be reckoned with in Europe and South America.

“The year 2001 was my best as I won six titles – three in a row – and was ranked as the No. 1 rider on the FEI ranking list,” he said.

He stopped competing after that due to an injury before making a brief comeback in 2006 to take part in the world meet in Terengganu.

He then stopped competing to focus more on his job of running and maintaining the centres.

For Kamaruddin, the sport is not all about winning.

For example, there was one race in Spain where he learned the importance of showing kindness.

“I saw a kid who looked tired. I slowed down, encouraged her and rode with her until the next water point where her dad was waiting.

“Later that day, during the prize presentation, her father went up on stage to thank me and said I would be his guest forever in Spain for helping his daughter.

“After that, whenever I go there, I didn’t need my crew to give me water. The locals there would always show kindness to me.

“They’ll say, ‘here’s the short guy with a smile’.

“Sport is not all about winning. It’s about respecting one another despite our age, race and religion,” said Kamaruddin, who has over 1,000 riders all over the world as Facebook friends.

“I don’t even know most of them but whenever a young rider seeks my advice, I give them freely.

“Nowadays, people do not take advice kindly – they think they know everything. There is no end to learning.”

Kamaruddin has been inducted into the Olympic Council of Malaysia Hall of Fame and is also one of the 84 people in the world – including the likes of the Dalai Lama, Diego Maradona and Fernando Alonso – chosen to be honorary members of the The World League – Mind Free of Drugs organisation.

“I’m the only horse guy chosen to be in the elite 84. Keeping sports clean is important. I hope more Malaysian youngsters will be good in sports and stay away from all of society’s ills,” he said.

Kamaruddin Abdul Ghani , Equestrian , Horse

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