Helena Gabrielsson is a Swedish show jumping rider in Thailand. She won Southeast Asia World Cup jumping league and other international events during the years. Today she still competes, while being an instructor and a trainer of racehorses.
Photos: Louise Bihl Frandsen
The sun is just on its way up, when we leave Helena Gabrielsson’s home in Nakhon Nayok – around 50 km outside Bangkok. Time says 06:15, but Helena has been up even earlier.
“My day is packed with action. When I come back from training the racehorses, I will do some jumps, and in the afternoon my ‘vet’ is coming out to do some laser treatments on some of my horses,” she says.
We are sitting in her grey Prado on our way to Cha-Om and Noppakao racing stable. In around half an hour we will get to the track and the racehorses.
From jump to race
2011. That was the year when Helena and her husband bought their first three racehorses. She did not know anything about racing or racehorses – and betting is not something she is into.
But her husband suggested they started training racehorses, and for Helena it was a challenge, she could not say no to.
“Here in Thailand you cannot just be a competition rider. The money is not enough. You have to be creative and see opportunities in everything. It is not that we earn much on the races either, but it is an income next to my riding and work as an instructor,” she says.
Since Helena did not know anything about racing to begin with, one of her friends helped her.
“I did not know about furlongs which equals to 200 meters, for instance, which is the distance between two numbers on the track,” she explains, while having a keen eye on the two first racehorses on the track this morning.
The air is fresh and the sun is half up. Helena shouts something in Thai to one of the jockeys, who is actually a stable boy. He is flying several meters ahead of the other jockey, who is almost invisible in the background. Helena shouts that he has to slow down.
“See? That is why, they are exercise riders and not riding races. He knows that he is not supposed to go that fast, but sometimes they just want to let the horse run,” she laughs.
“They have to be born here, or else they are not allowed to run in the races,” Helena explains.
Willing to learn
It is neither talent nor experience that makes Helena decide which riders, she wants to work with. It is their willingness to learn and their ability to work hard for it. Before she moved to Thailand in 1992, she was riding in Germany.
“The whole mentality in Germany is so different from Thailand. I learned things in a strict way and had some amazing teachers,” she says.
“My riders have to be able to develop and listen to what I say. If you are thinking about receiving riding lessons just for fun, I am not the right trainer for you. My riders have to have ambitions,” she says.
Helena has a handful of riders – that is it. She is not aiming for a big equestrian school, she prefers to keep it simple.
The ever turning circle
Helena Gabrielsson has won several competitions in Thailand – here among Southeast Asia World Cup jumping league and other international events. Although first year with the racehorses was “not good”, she recently started having success in this field as well.
“Last year we had 14 wins and lots of seconds and thirds,” she smiles a bit proud.
She has been participating in races every single weekend the past few months. A first place gives approximate 70.000 THB, second between 25.000-30.000 and a third around 15.000.
“Every month every single horse costs in feed and care alone around 10.000-15.000 THB and that is without vaccines, vets and further costs,” she says and continues:
“At first you are like; ‘Yes! We won a race!’ And then you are like: ‘Oh, I have to pay for that and that,” she laughs.
However, the income from competitions, races and the training is enough to keep everyone running – even the horses that now have retired. Helena refuses to sell them.
A lady in action
Thailand’s horse racing has really caught Helena Gabrielsson’s interest, but it is not difficult to see where the real action happens: when she is on the sand, flying between and over jumps, just the way she has done it since she was a little girl living and growing up in a ‘horse family’ in Sweden.
Watch Helena Gabrielsson jump with her 18-year-old mare Nikita, which is bought and transported from Germany, when it was five years old.
“Super Sloppy Space Junk” (by Milkshake Daddy)