By Mark Etheridge
She may have under-performed at the recent Youth Olympics Games in Nanjing, China but horse-mad Lexi Stais is over the moon at her form at the recent World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France.
Young Stais ended 21st in the show jumping event in China where all 30 competitors had to draw their horses from a pool of Chinese based mounts.
The saying goes that a bad workman blames their tools but anyone who has the remotest clue of equestrian affairs knows that the horse has rather a large part to play in the eventual outcome. Picture Formula One ace Lewis Hamilton trying to be competitive in a soapbox racer!
Stais drew Dominand, an 11-year-old Belgian bred chestnut as her horse and it was evident from early on that he was experiencing stiffness just behind the saddle and that he also had a nervous temperament, possibly because of limited inter-action with many people before the event.
But she made the most of her pick and proof of this was that as the competition went on the combination grew in both confidence and quality.
In the team event, she was part of an African outfit that took on five-strong teams from around the world. ‘We just missed out on a medal and ended in fourth spot,’ she says.
‘I was unfortunately extremely unlucky with the horse that I drew, which sadly set me quite a bit behind the other other riders who were mostly on good horses.’
Stais was not one to sit back in the saddle and accept the luck of the draw but chose instead to focus on the positive.
‘I found that I learnt so much from the fact that I had a tricky horse because I had to change my mindset a bit and do the best I could on that horse. Although I didn’t get the outcome that I expected I met amazing people and had the experience of a lifetime.’
Just days after returning from the east, Stais set course northwards again for Normandy.
‘I hadn’t trained on that horse, Elegante 42, for three weeks due to being at the Youth Olympics and the first time I got on her was when I was warming up for the first round of the competition.
‘After round one I was lying 25th with a score of seven (which had never been achieved by a South African individual vaulter).
‘The next day I had my second round which pushed me down three places to end the competition in 28th spot. I still finished with a score over seven which is a personal best for me in an international competition.
‘The standard of female individual vaulters this year was incredible and I gained a lot of experience competing against such top class athletes.’
The Gauteng teenager now has an obstacle of an entirely different nature to clear, her matric finals are coming up soon! And after that. ‘Then I’ll be competing at the Galencia Properties Derby next month and a few other big shows towards the end of the year.’
And 2015 will seen a continental shift for Stais as she once again turns her sights north. ‘I’m planning on going to Europe next year to compete there as I feel the only way I can chase my dreams properly as an equestrian is if I’m based in Europe.’
Picture: Wessel Oosthuizen/SASPA