Although she is a descendant of the royal family, Princess Norodom Amrita does not lead the comfortable life one might expect, surrounded by servants befitting her lineage. Instead, she has chosen to pursue equestrian skills, aspiring to use this talent as a means to elevate Cambodia’s stature, in keeping with the legacy of her grandfather, the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.

While her accomplishments on the international stage are still developing, her victory at the 1st Southeast Asian (SEA) Youth Cup in the Thai capital Bangkok last year, where she secured a gold medal, stands as a significant achievement. This success has bolstered her confidence in realising the ambitious aspirations and dreams of her youth.

A daughter of Princess Norodom Nanda Devi and Frenchman Ketienmeyer Etienne, Amrita, born and raised in the French capital Paris, developed a deep affection for horses from an early age, receiving training since childhood.

In a recent interview with The Post, Amrita eschews royal formality, opting for simpler language akin to that of ordinary people.

“I have always loved animals since my childhood. At my home, there was a dog, a cat and birds that would visit. I like all animals, but horses hold a special place in my heart, because the provinces in France are full of them. The sight of horses inspired me to ask my parents to let me ride when I was 5,” she explains.

With her parents’ blessing, Amrita devoted her free time to horse riding. Upon returning to her ancestral homeland, Cambodia, at the age of 7, she sought a place to continue her passion. The International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) facilitated her training at the Cambodia Equestrian Federation (CEF), with Mona Tep as its president.

“When I first came to Cambodia, I didn’t know where to go for horseback riding, but I told the FEI about my interest, and they arranged for me to train every Sunday at the CEF. I trained there a lot and became a CEF rider in 2018 when I was 10,” Amrita recalls.

International competitions

Nanda Devi, appointed as secretary-general of the CEF in 2018, plays a crucial role in Amrita’s development into a skilled young athlete, capable of expertly commanding a horse to leap over fences. 

She has since won numerous competitions organised by the federation and at other domestic equestrian events.

With her impressive skills, Amrita was chosen to represent her club in France in 2019, as well as in national-level competitions in Malaysia, Thailand, and Taiwan in 2022. Despite these opportunities, she found it challenging to compete against more seasoned athletes.

“I didn’t win a victory in the competitions abroad because I was young and needed to compete against adults who were very skilled and had trained for years. But in the competition in Thailand in December 2023, my teammates and I won gold in the most exciting way. It was our first gold on the international stage,” she shares.

The 1st SEA Youth Cup, held on December 9, 2023, in Thailand, saw participation from seven countries. Amrita, along with Kong Ratanak and Kiri Chan Tola, clinched gold in the equestrian event.

Princess Norodom Amrita, a French-Cambodian, in action at the privately-owned Cambodian Country Club (CCC) in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district recently. Chhorn Norn, Photo supplied

The victory was not just a personal achievement but also a testament to the federation’s dedication.

Founded in 2006 under the initiative of the late King Father, it had previously secured bronze medals at the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia and in a match in Hong Kong but had not won gold in an international event until then.

The event aimed to rekindle interest in equestrian sports among ASEAN countries, in preparation for the 2025 SEA Games in Thailand. It was especially important as equestrian sports had not been included in the games for three consecutive editions.

Looking towards the games, Amrita has set her sights on winning gold. 

“I want to earn gold at the 2025 SEA Games. To that end, I will train harder, which will help me master my techniques,” she asserts.

At 15, she recognises the varying levels of competition within the ASEAN region. 

“When we compare our equestrian skills with those of other ASEAN competitors, we find some stronger and some weaker. But our level is certainly not below theirs. I am confident that if we participate in the SEA Games 2025, we can win gold. I hope to accomplish this goal, as now we have quality horses and our coaches are highly skilled,” she adds.

Amrita also harbours ambitions to become Cambodia’s leading horse rider, aiming to participate in the 2025 International Youth Games. She will turn 16 after the Khmer New Year celebrations this April.

“I am determined to participate in the international Youth Games. When the FEI organises the qualifying competitions for the games, I will compete, as this is my ultimate goal and I am committed to achieving it,” she says.

Looking to the future

Currently in the 10th grade at the French International School of Phnom Penh (EFI), she has yet to decide on a major for university studies. However, she is resolute in continuing her equestrian pursuits alongside her academic endeavours. Standing tall at 1.67m, she remains passionate about the sport.

“I couldn’t imagine giving up horseback riding, as it’s something I enjoy deeply. Even though I don’t plan to become a coach or lead the CEF in the future, I am driven by a desire to win gold for my nation and our people, in line with my role as a member of the royal family,” she explains.

Amrita credits her late grandfather, Norodom Sihanouk, who was an avid horse rider and the founder of the CEF, as her inspiration. 

“Continuing my grandfather’s legacy in equestrian sports is what motivates me. Honouring his memory drives me to enhance my skill and become a role model for female athletes,” she adds.

CEF coach Hoy Sopharith expressed confidence in Amrita’s potential to win gold at the forthcoming SEA Games. 

“The current level of our equestrian team has improved considerably. We have the capability to compete for gold against other countries at the SEA Games. Amrita’s dedication and long-standing training since childhood make her a strong contender,” he says.

He emphasises the importance of international training camps and participation in competitions leading up to the biennial regional sports extravaganza, especially for team members like Amrita. 

“It’s crucial for our athletes to gain experience in competitions with jumps of 1.2m or higher, as this experience is vital for the SEA Games, where team events have jumps of 1.2m and individual events 1.25m,” he explains, underscoring the necessity of such preparations for achieving success at the event.