Saturday July 28 2007

Wan Zaleha rides on despite the hurdles

By Susan Tam

HORSES had always fascinated the young Wan Zaleha Radzi but her father needed convincing before she could start lessons. So she struck a deal with him – straight “A's” for a saddle when she turned 12.

“Dad said I had to get straight 'As' in my Standard 5 assessment test first before I could ride. This was motivation enough for me,” she recalls.

Her interest in horses was no passing fancy and she worked hard to be an accomplished rider.

Wan Zaleha Radzi says APV hopes to organise more world-class events and maybe create an Asian circuit

Today, the Asian Games and South-East Asian Games medallist for this equestrian sport, is a successful businesswoman and the brains behind Asiapromote Ventures Sdn Bhd (APV).

APV successfully organised an international equestrian event – the KL Grand Prix – in 2003 and 2004. The firm also put together the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Cup Final last year, which was a first for Asia.

The KL Grand Prix CSI 5 Star 2007 will be held in November, along with a FEI Asian Nations Cup.

Wan Zaleha explains that the events were part of efforts to promote the sport in Asia, which also fulfils the objective of FEI, the world equestrian sports governing body.

Introducing this sport in Malaysia was not easy, recalls the Kuala Lumpur-born 43-year-old.

“Someone, not from the equine industry, suggested that perhaps we could hold a circuit event like the Formula One races,” she elaborates.

Although the first KL Grand Prix was launched in 2001, it only officially kicked off two years later as there were many hurdles to overcome.

“We had to overcome sponsorship hurdles, political hurdles, the stigma of the sport and persuade some of the top riders to come to Asia,” she says.

Even top horse experts from Europe advised APV that it would take at least five years to establish a following for such shows, especially in Malaysia, where the awareness of the sport was low.

But, Wan Zaleha, who admits she loves a good challenge, pressed on with the help of her team to see the KL Grand Prix through.

“Sometimes the less you know how impossible a task is, the better it is as you believe you can do it.

“This is because you don’t see the limit and you see what can be done rather than what cannot be done,” she says.

Wan Zaleha says she had support from her family, friends and husband, APV chief executive officer Peter Imran Winton, to make it work.

Winton, she says, has extensive experience in this sport and international networks, which the firm could tap on.

“I know some people thought we were crazy, but we thought we could introduce this sport, which has always been US- or Europe-centric, here,” she adds.

Besides trying to change the perception that equine sports were only for the elite, she wanted to promote the fact that this industry was not solely for riders.

“There are many career opportunities as people can work as a groom or a blacksmith. There is also high demand for medical services for the animals, providing saddles and bridles, feed and horseshoes,” she says.

There are also the spillover effects from hosting a world-class event. For instance, the global media coverage of the equestrian show can give local companies the exposure to markets outside Malaysia.

She adds that the horse represents qualities like prestige, beauty, loyalty, trust and honour, which could be used as brands for companies to strengthen their products and services here and abroad.

Having had the opportunity and success in hosting world-class events here, she says it is not yet time to take a break.

“We hope to organise more world-class events and maybe create an Asian circuit. Perhaps we can hold two or three events in Malaysia or in neighbouring countries,” she says.

Work towards such events is already under way as APV is talking to parties in the Middle East, she explains.

But, plans are still at the preliminary stage as there are many issues to iron out such as quarantine and stabling for the animals.

Some people may perceive Wan Zaleha’s passion for equine sports as the sole driver towards APV’s success, but she is determined that hard work and effort will not be wasted as the team pushes to make Malaysia a top destination in the world of equestrian sport.

Experience in athletics helps build competitiveness

WAN Zaleha Radzi jokes that her success stems from playing ignorant to her limitations.

“I know it sounds crazy but sometimes not knowing what you can’t do, fuels the drive and helps you focus on what you can do,” she says with a laugh.

She attributes her positive traits to her experience in athletics, and track and field during her teenage days. “Competing helps me strategise, pace myself and maximise my capabilities.”

In her secondary school days, Wan Zaleha trained under national hurdler Ishtiaq Mubarak. Results were shown through the gold and silver medals won at state levels in the Malaysian Schools Sports Council and Malaysian Amateur Athletic Union meets nationwide.

In the late 1970s, she represented Malaysia in the 4x100m relay at the Asean school meet in Singapore to win the gold medal.

But her successes did not end there.

The eldest of four siblings went on to pursue equestrian sports and won a bronze medal at the Chiangmai SEA Games in 1995 and silver medal in the Asian Games in Thailand in 1998.

“I love competing. People say sports builds character but I think sports reveals character and brings out who you are, giving you the chance to learn about yourself,” she explains.

She finds herself very competitive in nature and having the determination to overcome challenges.

“The more people tell me I can’t do something, the more I need to know that I can do it,” she says.

Wan Zaleha believes that these are some of the qualities important for women keen on setting up their own businesses and being entrepreneurs.

“You just have to get it in your head that you can do it, but you also have to learn it the hard way.

“When you have a passion for your field and are seeing positive results, your good energy will attract good people and strong support, making it a great combination for success,” she says.

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