Armenia’s equestrian community is slowly drawing international attention with its top-notch coaches and athletes all training in state-of-the-art equestrian centers.
At the pinnacle of this ever-growing equine community is the Hovik Hayrapetyan Equestrian Center. The center boasts an 1,800 meter-long horse racing hippodrome; there’s also an outdoor and indoor arena for international competitions. As an avid equestrian for over ten years, I decided to visit the Center myself to learn more about its traditional riding techniques.
I traveled to Yerevan, my second trip to the city, to train with Armenia’s former head national equestrian coach, Nori Stephanian. The center, located conveniently twenty minutes outside of downtown Yerevan, was unlike anything I had ever seen before.
Early Monday morning I awoke just as the first rays of sunlight streamed through my apartment window. Outside I had a view of the glorious Armenian sunrise. After getting dressed in riding apparel, I walked outside into the quiet, cool crisp morning. Outside sat an array of cab drivers, sipping tea offered to them by the neighboring hair salon. Immediately one offered to drive me away to my destination.
In the middle of a suburban Yerevan neighborhood was the Hovik Hayrapetyan Equestrian Center. The center’s driveway offered a path to the more secluded stable. Lining the driveway to the stable were perfumed rose bushes along with herds of horses munching on them. I later learned from Coach Stephanian about the horses’ love of roses. He told me the stable and fields belong to the horses. “We are here for them, so they may do as they please,” he said. This became one of my favorite philosophies during my trip. The horses take priority here at the center; the athletes, trainers and groomers do everything to make sure they are happy and healthy so they can train up to their full athletic potential.
Inside the stable, I immediately noticed the immaculate tack room organized full of gear for both the horse and rider. Located next to the arena is the office of the Federation of Equestrian Sport of Armenia. Coach Stephanian works closely with the organization to provide the best equestrian experience possible for visiting athletes. Across the office are the horses’ stalls. The horses receive attentive care throughout the day. Coach Stephanian explained that the center is open to native Armenians of all ages as well as international athletes.
The Hovik Hayrapetyan Equestrian Center also offers a luxury experience at the stable. An onsite restaurant serves a variety of classic Armenian dishes with a glorious view of Mount Ararat. With such a hospitable and inviting atmosphere, the center is an unexpectedly fantastic way to spend a quiet morning outside of Yerevan.
Coach Stephanian introduced me to his bay Dutch Warmblood mare—Arousyag—the horse I would be working with during my training. Arousyag had just returned from competing in Moscow.
During my training session, I practiced fundamental riding techniques such as having control over my horse and having a balanced seat in the saddle so that I can jump over higher obstacles while riding. Coach Stephanian and I also spent time correcting bad habits that I had picked up. Coach Stephanian corrected my position on my horse, specifically the way I positioned my legs in the saddle.
Coach Stephanian, an international equestrian competitor with decades of experience competing and training, believes in teaching the Russian fundamental riding technique of partnership with the horse. He helped me develop a stronger bond with my horse; I learned how connect with her by listening to her cues and responding to her body language. After several weeks of training with some of the best sports horses in eastern Europe and Russia, I realized my technique considerably improved.
Training at this world-class equestrian center was unlike anything I had experienced. Unlike many American equestrian centers, the centers in Armenia focus on the rider’s relationship with the horse, as well as the rider’s individual needs to grow in the sport. Conversely, US training techniques, in my experience, value the overall performance of the entire equestrian team more than the technique and personal growth of the riders. The expanding equestrian community in Armenia should be celebrated as it indicates a new venture for the sport into eastern Europe and Asia.