We caught up with Tamsin at Steyn City to talk about her journey, her goals and her philosophy.
Let’s talk about your background. You had a really tough start that you’ve overcome: abandoned at three months and diagnosed with cerebral palsy at a very young age. The doctors said you’d never walk, but you’ve overcome it with huge aplomb and confidence. What keeps you so driven?
I have a point to prove. A lot of the time, I get babied, even by my friends. They ask “can you do this?” or “do you want me to get this for you?” People think I’m not very capable, but I have been raised to do it on my own. Sometimes it gets hard but I am driven by letting other people see that I can do it. It has been one hard road for me, but my parents have been very helpful because they don’t baby me, they always let me try and do things on my own. The path I find myself at this moment is very self-motivating, it’s a big opportunity I’ve been given – this is my chance for other people to see that I can do this.
Tamsin Mbatsha-Bouwer is more than just a horse rider. She is a rising star on the South African para-athlete scene, with her eyes towards representing South Africa in dressage at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.
How did you get into horse riding, and particularly dressage?
I started horse riding when I was about four years old. It was very therapeutic for me, and helped me a lot with my walking. The doctors said I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I started to walk when I was about seven years old; horse riding really helped with that.
I started with show jumping before dressage but I wasn’t competitive at it. Last year, I went to the clinic as a demo rider and that’s when I met Kate. I actually fell off at the clinic but I was pretty determined to show them all how I canter, so I got back on again and showed them my canter. It’s pretty unusual in the para world for a rider to do certain things, but I really wanted to get my point across. So Kate was like, “I want to teach this girl,” so I’ve been with Kate for over a year – since March last year – and I’ve been doing dressage ever since.
Tell us about your training schedule – how often do you train?
I ride from Monday to Saturday, for an hour every day. It’s very important to keep fit.
Do you only ride KEC Garfield? Tell us about him.
The KEC stands for Kyalami Equestrian Centre. In the horse-riding world, you get assigned to a club and you work in that club. Garfield is a very stubborn pony, very difficult sometimes, but I really enjoy riding him. I ride other horses and I’ve got my own pony at my yard. I rode another horse at an international tournament a few months ago - its important to ride a few other horses every now and then so that one can get used to them.
What do you find is your biggest challenge when it comes to your training?
My biggest challenge when I’m not having a lesson is remembering what I must practise, Kate's instructions. “Watch your reins, watch your hands” – that’s my one thing. I always want to rush, but I need to remember things that I keep missing out on. Like when I rode yesterday, and when I ride today, I must always remember “hands down, corners...”
So tell me more about Kate? What’s your relationship like with her; how does she approach your training?
Kate and I are a really good team. In the beginning, it must have been difficult, you know, for her, but we’ve been together for a while. She really brings it together in a way I understand. She doesn’t baby me either, she treats me like her other students, which is important to me.
So often, teenage girls get their confidence knocked out of them at a young age, around 12, 13, and they don’t always get it back but she has really helped me maintain a strong belief in myself.
What advice do you have for other teenage girls who feel like their confidence is being stripped from them?
I used to get bullied a lot but I just told myself, I’m a horse rider and the bullies don’t know that I can horse ride. I just to need prove a point and turn the other cheek, because they don’t know what I’m capable of. When I get on a horse, people are like “wow, you can ride!” and I say, “yes, of course I can.” Just prove to others what they’re saying is wrong. Proving them wrong is my biggest thing, it’s what I do best.
How did you come to Steyn City? How are they helping you achieve your goal of getting to Rio 2016?
Steyn City has been so kind by sponsoring the equestrian facilities, so I can train there whenever I need to. It’s been such an amazing help. They have incredible facilities, including an all-weather arena and it’s so beautiful there.
As a rising sports star, who do you look up to as a young athlete?
I love what Philippa Johnson has done, she’s a para rider as well and she’s gone to the Olympics, she’s done very well. I look up to her and all her achievements. She’s an incredible rider. I also look up to Bethany Hamilton as well, she’s a surfer who lost an arm in a shark attack and yet inspite of it all she’s done amazing things.
In your down time, what do you do?
I love reading! I’m trying to train and manage school, but I love reading crime books and watching crime shows. I want to become a forensic psychologist.
What are your plans after getting the gold at Rio?
I’m still going to keep riding. I want to promote the sport in South Africa, so that more people can come to the sport.
What will it take to get to Rio?
(Laughs) Hard work! Lots and lots of hard work.