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The Kyalami Equestrian Park in South Africa was a hive of activity on Saturday as Team Nissan spent the morning training a group of enthusiastic young riders from THANDI (The Heritage and Nissan Development Initiative) program and other development initiatives as part of the Nissan Development Day.
THANDI, which is sponsored by Nissan, is the only true grass roots show jumping development program in Gauteng. It aims to make equestrian more accessible in South Africa.
During the Development Day, held in the run up to the Nissan Easter Festival, participating children were given a tour of the Derby followed by equestrian and show jumping lessons from the experts themselves. Team Nissan's Oscar Ncube says it's every young rider's dream to ride in the Derby, which makes being exposed to the track really special.
"Development Day is a fantastic opportunity for the country's top riders to give back to the development of the sport by imparting, not only their considerable skills, but also their passion for show jumping," says Mike Whitfield, managing director of Nissan South Africa.
The group of children participating included riders of various levels of experience. Some like those from Footprints (a home full of children) had only ever had two lessons on horseback before. Other riders, like those involved in the THANDI program, have been drawing on Team Nissan's experience for the past four years and are now ready to start competing.
"It's a real privilege for these kids to be able to learn from the absolute top riders in the country," said Wendy Gidlow, founder and director of the THANDI program.
Tshepo Shabangu is one such rider. He says he knew nothing about horses before becoming involved in the program.
"The program helped me realize what a great sport equestrian is – one that challenges you to use, not only every part of your body, but your mind as well," said Shabangu.
Gidlow says equestrian has much to teach young riders: "The sport is great from a fitness point of view. It also teaches commitment, discipline and the subtleties of communication. Without the backing of big brands like Nissan, it would be impossible to expose this sport to a wider group of young athletes with this potential."
Whitfield says the lifestyle represented by equestrian is a great fit for Nissan's products, making it a natural choice for sponsorship.
"We have a wide range of products that talk to the equestrian market, family vehicles and, of course, vehicles for getting out and about and seeing exactly what South Africa can offer," said Whitfield.
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