Nandi Kegode, 31, was, as a child, introduced to horses by her mother who loved riding and father who was a polo enthusiast. She shares what kept her interested beyond childhood
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Having been introduced to horses at the age of three, Nancy Kegode was eight years old when she first took part in equestrianism, the sport of horseback riding. She has since competed in numerous competitive events and has taken her passion for horses beyond riding them.
“I competed locally from the age of eight to 19 in both show jumping and dressage. Show jumping is where a horse and rider are required to jump a series of obstacles within an arena designed for a particular show. All the jumps have to be performed within a certain time limit. The course is challenging. You need a good relationship with your horse as it must be able to trust your guidance enough to interpret the jumps,” explains Nandi.
“Dressage, on the other hand, is more like dance and gymnastic. It is beautiful and graceful. It involves a series of movements that must be performed by the horse and rider. Both horse and rider are judged on how well they execute a series of predetermined movements, and is sometimes accompanied with music. Horse and rider are expected to perform from memory. The rider must have a great relationship with the horse, because a horse is required to respond and understand his/her request and perform the requested movement,” she says.
Nandi says although equestrianism may seem graceful and easy from a spectator perspective, it is possibly one of the most challenging sports.
“Equestrianism is a demanding sport because it is not all about you as an athlete but your relationship or partnership with your horse. In fact, it is the only Olympic sport that includes an animal. As a result, an important aspect of the sport is in finding the right horse. You have to communicate effectively with your horse to perform well. This is not always easy in fact in one’s lifetime one is lucky if they at least experience two successful pairings,” she says.
Nandi currently does not have her own horse, but makes use of what she calls a “great horse community” in Karen where she is allowed to train at least twice a week.
“This works out well for me and the horse owners, because I get to train and the horse owners have someone ride their horses.”
One thing Nandi loves about the sport is that it helps her keep fit, both physically and mentally. “As a rider, you have to keep on training and researching to keep up. Riding makes me feel strong. It demands that you connect with your horse on an emotional level to communicate with it; it is absolutely powerful to ride a 1000-pound horse and to communicate and guide it.”
Nandi acknowledges the many fallacies about horse riding, especially in Kenya -- that people believe everything from ‘horse riding is only for rich white people’ to ‘humans cannot communicate with horses’ or ‘horses are not intelligent enough to think for themselves.’
She says others believe that the Kenyan economy cannot benefit from a thriving horse industry.
“I came back to Kenya after being away for 11 years in America where I went to university and worked. I found out that equestrianism in Kenya was in a bad state — so much so that the annual Horse of the Year Show did not take place in 2019 because not enough entries were received,” she says.
“What is most unfortunate is that, abroad, this same industry is a USD300-billion -a -year industry. Kenya is losing out on a huge source of income; it not only has weather that is ideal for horse breeding, but it is a great destination for sport tourism,” Nandi says.
She gives the example of a show-jump horse, which depending on its breeding, can cost up to USD1 million.
“If Kenya was actively involved in horse breeding, our economy would greatly benefit. Notably, what is still vibrant in Kenya is polo. It has more support because there are very wealthy Kenyan families that play it simply for leisure. However, it does not bring back revenue into the economy,” she explains.
“I am a member of the Kenya Horse Association. Its goal is to restore the horse industry to even greater glory than before. The association has moved to a 7-acre piece of land at Ngong Race Course to start building stables and arenas and is investing to help restore the industry,” she says.
Although Nandi is not yet officially back to competing, she is currently training hard and her goal for 2020 is to be the first Kenyan horseback rider to secure sponsorship. She also hopes to represent Kenya in the Olympics in future.
Nandi also runs company called Hisia Intel Solutions.
“I started the company in February last year. It focuses on Emotional Intelligence training. I use horses to teach non-verbal communication because they are very sensitive to it; they notice changes in posture and expression. Horses communicate principally by interpreting and reacting to body language, so you have to be careful around them and intentional about what you are communicating non-verbally, which also applies to adult relationships.”
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