Tough juggling act for Janine

Equestrienne loses sleep to balance studies and training ahead of Games The 36-sport countdown continues with equestrian and archery

SHE jumped to a SEA Games gold medal on a horse she had known for barely three days in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, back in 2013.

This time, with the Games held on home soil, showjumping defending champion Janine Khoo, 17, will return to the arena with a familiar steed.

While this has raised expectations, the Year 6 student at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), however, is well aware that past performance is not indicative of future results.

"It's difficult to say with horses. It's hard to predict what they're going to do, they have minds of their own," she said.

Instead of focusing on the pressure, she has shrugged it off, choosing instead to concentrate on polishing her skills.

ST 20150522 SPT14A 1333350m

"She works a lot on her skill level, sharpening her skills like having a good distance and having good rhythm," said her mother, Carol Khoo.

Janine travels to Europe frequently for competitions - she has already been there three times this year, for one to two weeks each time - and to familiarise herself with the two horses she might choose to ride at next month's SEA Games.

She also has to juggle school and three hours of daily training with two other horses in Singapore.

"I know she has a hard time because she sets herself high expectations, both for the sport and in school," said national coach Roy Ibrahim.

And it is beginning to take its toll on her.

"You have no idea how little she sleeps now, just trying to juggle her responsibilities," said Carol, 50, a housewife.

On the day of this interview, for instance, her mother revealed that Janine was up at 3.30am to complete her homework before heading to school.

School is also a major priority for Janine because her International Baccalaureate (IB) preliminary exams in July will decide her predictive grades, which she will use to apply to university.

However, given that this could well be her last major competition before she takes a study break, she considers the commitment worth it.

"I see it as a responsibility because the SEA Games are held at home, and I want to do my best," she said.

Of her decision to hang up her riding boots temporarily when the Games individual competition ends on June 10, the teenager, who wants to read veterinary science at university, explained: "I've lost a lot of time already at the beginning of the year, I don't want to do badly for my exams."

"I'm finding it very hard to see beyond IB at the moment," she added, laughing briefly.

The SEA Games, however, are no laughing matter and Equestrian Federation of Singapore president Melanie Chew is cautiously optimistic of achieving its target of four medals.

Asked if that included all four golds at stake, she replied: "We want to do our best and get medal colours as close to gold as possible."

Since the last SEA Games, the federation has brought in specialists to plug knowledge gaps. For instance, it engaged a music specialist to teach the riders how to prepare for the dressage final, which involves music and choreographed moves.

Likening equestrian to Formula One racing, Chew said: "You have a team of people behind every successful car and driver - it's a huge effort."

gohruiqi@sph.com.sg