“Victory in any endeavor is a great feeling when I have achieved success in the right way, when it is the result of work, effort, obedience and inspiration. I don’t believe in sudden ups, I constantly compete with myself and aim to be better than I was. In riding, I do everything in my power, follow the instructions of my trainers and believe in my horse. Without trust between us, we would never achieve anything!”
These are the words of Viktoria Atanasova from the “Niesa” equestrian club, who won a bronze medal in the general classification at her first Balkaniad in show jumping in Athens.
She jumped without a single mistake in the first two days of the parkour championship between 125 and 130 cm and when the victory was a few jumps away, a slight hesitation before the long flight over the water channel brought a mistake – the horse’s front leg stepped about 5 cm. in the plastic strip after the water and the 4 penalty points flashed on the scoreboard.
During the entire championship, none of the dozens of riders from nine countries would have guessed that Victoria was holding the reins of the powerful horse Toxic Boy with only her thumbs – a congenital malformation of her right hand left her without fingers and after a series of operations as a baby, the thumb serves as a support and the puppy touches it. “I want to talk about it. In my life, this hand has never been a problem, but I know how difficult it can be for any child who endures the sincere reactions of pity from adults, and often taunts from children. It doesn’t matter what is different in a person’s body, because everyone can show others that they are doing what they like and being happy with life! Well, I won’t become a pianist, but I can conquer a bunch of my other peaks and be proud of my success!”
Victoria started playing sports from a young age, went through athletics and figure skating, but when she got on a horse for the first time in Sunny Beach, “for me it became a necessity,” she says. From the base of the resort, they recommend her to start training at the horse base in Ikhtiman, they enroll her in a children’s camp. She still doesn’t know how to canter, she doesn’t even know how she managed to hold the reins, because being on the horse was the most important thing.
“It became clear to me that this is what I want in my life. When I got my first horse, Persia, I didn’t want to compete, but to ride in the fields, teach her tricks, have fun and be friends. She was also the first horse, which I tried – I wanted a young, very big horse and she was 184 cm at the withers. When I got on her back I gasped. Then we just lived together. She is my first races. When I got her I couldn’t even gallop properly. No I wanted to jump, but the trainers taught me how to ride properly and safely, so I also passed small obstacles. I liked it, I went to the first competition for beginners, I passed cleanly, then I appeared in two or three more and I liked it even more.
In order to progress faster, however, I took my second horse, Ginny. Well, yes, but she was for a much more advanced rider, confident, who knew what she was doing, and I wasn’t. Ginny was super hard for me, I’ve never fallen so hard in my life! With the other horses, I must have fallen 7-8 times, and with her more than 20! Then coach Bejo told me: If you want, sell her, but jump 125-130 cm with her to know what you’re capable of.
In the beginning, Ginny and I jumped 100-115 cm at competitions, but at the World Cup round we won third place in parkour at a height of 125-130 cm. However, I was inconsistent in the results: either we jumped very well or we were eliminated because I fell . I wondered if I should give up, but then I wondered why? – I was doing what I love so much! Ginny taught me courage, responsiveness and confidence – I would never, ever sell that horse!”
“Now I have four horses: Ginny, Toxic Boy, Louisiana and Solstice Blue. I’m not afraid of falling – sometimes from the side it looks like I’m a blur, but as soon as I can get up I get on the saddle and repeat the jump. One fall, however it scared me a lot, so much so that then I would get on the saddle and the horses are powerful, they played under me, I was insecure and even more afraid. For about two weeks it was not clear who would prevail, and then I got angry with myself, at my fear – I had already jumped parkour from 140 cm, and I was trembling in the saddle at a trot. But I am still me, and under me is a horse that I love. And I regained my courage – out of love.”
Victoria builds her horse balance and control system because two thumbs are not enough to control a horse’s powerful neck. There are many ways for the horse to resist with the neck, so she perfects the seat and balance, the reaction with weight and control with leg pressure, with voice commands. “It has its great advantages because I learned beautiful riding, a control that creates a unity between me and the horse. The animal does not care how many fingers I have, only how it feels the commands to which it responds. Many riders hear from their trainers “Don’t hold on to the reins”, but even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. On the other hand, I often feel myself on all fours and only guide them in the desired direction.
With a laugh, Vicky says, “At the State Championships, Group B, I dropped my stirrups and jumped the remaining eight hurdles clear without stirrups. As soon as I dropped them, I realized that if I made a wide turn to accommodate them, I would lose time and get penalty points, so I just carried on. I didn’t win anything, but to my surprise I was given a special rosette for beautiful riding.”
Gold in the 140 cm parkour is from Victoria’s first Grand Prix of the Junior World Cup, held in Tsaratsovo. Such a height is a severe test even for professionals. However, it is one thing to rise as a new star and quite another – to prove to everyone whose experience and skills can also lead them to the ladder of honor that you really belong there. Defending the level achieved brings more adrenaline, but also a dose of uncertainty, and this can make even an experienced rider hesitate.
“It has always been most important to ride beautifully, correctly, with thought, to follow the strategy built with the coaches. Some riders give gas, and I want to put all the art of riding into it. If I win with a bad ride, it is not a victory. The victories they come as a result of an overall process, while those who ride the kushiya have no way of progressing.
I always follow the instructions of the trainers and the plan we have developed while looking at the parkour – the symbiosis with them is as important as the feeling for the horse. Before I went to the World Cup Grand Prix, Stoitsa came up to me before the start, pointed to an obstacle and said: “Turn left immediately there.” It was the right advice. Bejo and Stoitsa are the best coaches!
My dream is after many more years of riding to participate in a world championship. But I am already aware that for such a level I need to work hard with many horses and gain a lot of experience. High-class horse racing is not about displaying youthful prowess, but about established skills. Therefore, the immediate plan for this year and next year is to strengthen 140-145 cm, and my horses have jumped up to 150 cm. I will work with them for at least four years. If everything goes according to plan, I strongly hope to participate in the European Championship next year.
My idol now is the German rider Markus Enning. I like his approach: his horse kicks a lot, but he doesn’t punish the horse in parkour, he just ignores it: if the horse participates as an equal partner in the competition, he kicks himself, and Anning takes care of his calculations. He is my example of professional and beautiful riding with a lot of skill and understanding of the horse. That’s what I want for myself!”
At school overseas
“Since last year, I have been studying online only at a school in New York, which is for students with many side commitments – ballet dancers, dancers, athletes, actors. Thus, each student has an independent program in order to fulfill the mandatory horary and achieve good academic results . Several female classmates from this school are also engaged in riding – one is from Hungary, the other is American. I am the only one from Bulgaria. The teachers constantly ask me about the training, about the events, upload my photos on their page – they are proud of the successes of each of us. I will graduate high school with an IB diploma (International Baccalaureate) while training and competing as a Bulgarian in Bulgaria.”
“I love animals! I was 13 when I gave birth to my golden retriever’s 10 puppies. The birth started at five in the morning, we had prepared a place for the birth, but she came to my bed. Everything went normally, but we were expecting 3-4 puppies, and not a soccer team! I was getting new and new towels, cleaning the little ones, making sure they were breathing normally and handing them to her. It was so exciting and beautiful!
Now I make sure my horses are always well, happy and calm. If the horse is not well, I will not race. Sport is to be partners, to have a relationship between us outside the saddle. Few realize that these big and strong animals are actually incredibly fragile and need constant attention and care. Everything in this sport for me is love. My horses are now children, I have to make sure that everything is OK for them – they take more supplements than I do, their wardrobes are bigger than mine.”
And the big life plan…this house with a stable behind it.