In 2018 Team Zambia represented the country at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Buenos Aires, Argentina and brought home two medals. The first of these was a bronze medal won by show jumper Bunty Howard. Sixteen-year-old Bunty not only brought home a medal but emerged as one of the top in African riders in the event. This was Bunty’s first time competing at top level for the Youth Olympic Games where she jumped a height of 130 cm. Recognised for her efforts, she was named National Junior Sportswoman of the Year by the Zambian National Sports Council in February 2019.
Bunty’s introduction to horses and equestrian sports came early. She was only 18 months when she participated in her first horse show, riding a pony called Merrylegs. At five years old Bunty competed in an equestrian vaulting competition, a cherished memory for her. She fondly recalls carrying the Zambian flag for her vaulting team.
Bunty was born in Lusaka and raised on a farm just outside the city. There she was surrounded by plenty of animals, including horses. “I started riding at a very early age together with my mum on her horse, on a tiny child’s saddle attached to the front of her saddle,” she tells me. Bunty’s mother is an experienced riding coach and wasted no time in introducing her daughter to the joys of riding and honing her skills. Bunty took to her lessons straight away and ultimately aims to have a career that involves working with horses, at competition level and beyond.
Bunty loves the different disciplines of equestrian sports, riding new horses at various competitions and the travel opportunities that come with competing. Besides Zambia she has competed in several countries including Mauritius, South Africa, Swaziland, DR Congo, Namibia, Algeria, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe and most notably, Argentina. Bunty particularly enjoyed her experience in Uzbekistan. “I was among twenty riders representing the countries selected to participate in the World Jumping Challenge 2018 that was held in Uzbekistan. It was a great experience for me,” she says. Algeria also stands out for Bunty. There she participated in the 2018 Africa Youth Games in the capital, Algiers. “It was such an amazing atmosphere and I loved travelling with my fellow teammates and making new friends from all over Africa,” she says enthusiastically.
When asked for any low points in her career Bunty is stumped. She admits equestrian sports, like any other, can be tough and they require huge amounts of training. However, Bunty maintains a positive mindset and when she has an unsuccessful round with her horse she puts it behind her and focuses on the road ahead. She prefers to concentrate on her wins and other career successes.
“My proudest moment was when my horse, a gelding called Little Oak, tried his heart out for me and we managed, over a series of three competitions held in Lusaka, to qualify Zambia for a place in equestrian show jumping at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games,” Bunty reveals. Qualifying to the Games in Argentina was the highlight of her 2018. All the riders competed on borrowed horses that they had never ridden on before, making the competition both daunting and exciting. Equestrian sports require a level of trust between horse and rider. And for Bunty the most difficult aspect of show jumping is ensuring that both she and her horse are mentally and physically fit to compete.
Bunty finds, however, that people incorrectly believe that show jumping simply involves pointing your horse towards an obstacle and the horse will do the rest. In some ways equestrian sports require more technical ability and precision as there are two different athletes competing together – horse and rider. “The key is to act as one fluid team going forward. One has to be accurate and precise and communicate with their horse through their own body movements to inspire confidence in the horse and enable it to react instinctively to what it is they want it to do for them. To achieve this I need to show my horse that I am confident and determined by ensuring we have established a bond of trust between us to get us through,” she explains.
Bunty gives credit to her horse at last year’s YOG, Call Girl Z, for her success at the Games. Riders drew the name of the horse they would ride from a hat and Bunty was fortunate to choose a new horse she got on well with. The way she sees it: “If your horse trusts you and likes you, they will perform their best for you. A horse that has some natural talent and a good temperament helps the rider.”
Being superstitious Bunty requires a little more than the aforementioned essentials to do well in competitions. She reserves her favourite riding gear for competitions days and ensures the Zambia pin on her riding jacket lapel is straight before entering a show jumping arena.
Going forward, donning her favourite gear and with her Zambia pin perfectly positioned, Bunty will continue working towards her dream of representing her country at the Olympics one day. She is well aware getting there will take an enormous amount of work but feels up for the task.