Talented, ambitious, skilled … and only 17-years-old

SOUTH AFRICAN showjumper, Amy Derber, has lived in Portugal for just under two years, but, in that time, has competed in many showjumping competitions with her horse Grenat De Langers, and is now jumping with Portugal’s finest. She spoke to The Resident’s Louise Pimm about her life, loves and, of course, horses.

The Resident: Where did your love of horses come from?

Amy Derber: Probably from my mum. She used to be a horse rider, and there were always pictures of horses and books about them lying around the house. I guess I just wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I started riding when I was six-years-old, in South Africa, but my first pony, Shaka Zulu, was really miserable; he had a lot of problems.

T.R: You have ridden in your home country of South Africa, England and now Portugal. How do the riding styles differ, and which country do you prefer training and competing in?

A.D: Even though I’ve only been here a short time, my favourite place to ride and compete is Portugal. I was really young when I rode in South Africa, and didn’t really compete in any major tournaments, so I can’t really comment on that. In the UK, I joined the pony club, but it was very closed and unfriendly. All the horse and showjumping events had a really pompous atmosphere; I didn’t like it. Here, in Portugal, everything is a lot more relaxed and friendly, and you get to know people because you always see the same faces at the competitions and shows.

In England, my trainers did everything to British Horse Society (BHS) standards – everything went by the book. Here in Portugal, my trainer, António Reis, is a lot more relaxed. He’s more focused on what actually happens and not what is written in the book.

We also spend a lot of time socialising as a family out here. It’s like joining a whole new one. We know everybody and they all speak to you – that’s the main difference between the UK and Portugal.

T.R: What competitions do you take part in over here?

A.D: I compete on the Portuguese circuit, but most of the competitions are in Lisbon or the Alentejo, so I don’t always get to every one. The Vilamoura International Equestrian Tour is the only one in the Algarve that I compete in. There is one in Portimão, but António won’t let me compete there! He says the ground is too hard, but we’re working on him ….

The circuit lasts all year, apart from late July and early August, when it’s too hot to ride, although some competitions are held in the evening.

T.R: How did you feel competing for South Africa in the Vilamoura International Equestrian Tour in March this year?

A.D: It was nerve-wracking. Last year I competed for Portugal, but this was my first time representing my home country. I got nine starts out of a possible 12, I was placed eight times, got seven firsts and one fifth. I was really pleased, but I know that I will do better next year.

At the moment, my Federação Equestre Portuguesa (FEP) ranking is 105 out of 600. As I’ve only been competing here for two years, I think I’ve done ok, but I do have an exceptionally good horse in Grenat De Langers, or Dell Boy as we call him.

T.R: What is it like competing with the best in Portugal?

A.D: I frequently meet and compete with the top Portuguese riders, but it’s not scary; in fact, they all look out for me and give me advice. Portugal’s number one, Luís Sabino Gonçalves, beat me into second place by 300ths of a second in last year’s Vilamoura International Equestrian Tour. Afterwards, he came up and said sorry! I think I have fitted in quite well on the circuit, I get on with most riders and, as I said before, it’s just like being part of a huge family.

T.R: What would be your favourite horse to ride, and what are your goals for the future?

A.D: The ultimate horse has to be Nick Skelton’s stallion, Arko III. My goal is the Olympics. To ride in that competition is one of the main reasons why I started riding.

T.R: How do you fund your trips to competitions? Are you sponsored?

A.D: Showjumping is an expensive sport, and I haven’t got sponsorship over here. The food, training, vets’ bills and transport cost a lot, and it is really hard to get sponsorship in Portugal, mainly because there are so many people competing. As I am riding for South Africa, it’s not giving out the right message to Portuguese sponsors. But my parents are supportive and proud, and take me to as many competitions as they can. At times, they can be a bit too supportive. I’d like them to know when to stop.

T.R: So what keeps you motivated?

A.D: Fear keeps me going. I’ve done this for so long, and it’s such a huge part of my life, that if I ever stopped, I wouldn’t know what I would do? Showjumping is motivating in itself. You train for four or five weeks, drive for three hours to a competition and, within a minute, it could all be over. That’s what keeps me going as well.

T.R: Would you ever consider riding in different disciplines?

A: I haven’t got the patience for dressage, and cross-country scares me. My last pony, Charlie, was very strong. I used to fear for my life when I did cross-country on him! Showjumping is the one for me, it’s for people that are too scared to do cross-country.

T.R: Will you be riding, and around horses, forever?

A.D: I’ve got quite a few qualifications in riding already, and I am also doing a diploma in equine management. Horses take up 80 per cent of my life, the other 20 is taken up with playing my guitar and writing music. Music keeps me balanced, relaxed, and puts everything into perspective. If it was horses all the time, I think I might go mad.

• You can read more about Amy Derber and her achievements on her webpage www.showjumpersworld.com