HORSE lover Jade Hooke left Port Elizabeth for the United Kingdom yesterday to participate in the Hickstead Derby World Equestrian Games, hopefully her first step towards qualifying for the 2016 Olympics showjumping and pentathlon team.
The 23-year-old plans to spend the next few years in the UK with the hopes of reaching her goals.
"In order to gain much-needed experience in the build-up to the 2016 Olympic Games, it is imperative that I compete on a global stage," she said.
As a little girl, Hooke spent time on a pony farm in St Francis Bay, and it was this that sparked her interest in showjumping.
She participates with her 15- year-old Namibian-bred horse, New Era. New Era is also making the move to another country, in which they hope to start a "new era" by competing overseas.
Hooke is no stranger to competitions after winning several, including the 2009 Avis South African Derby, where she was the youngest winner of the title.
She has also won the Quinsey Trophy for SA Equestrian Federation young riders' rankings, was the overall South African World Cup winner in 2011 and has won the Nissan Riders Grand Prix Shongweni.
She is also a triathlon and female pentathlon champion.
One of the biggest challenges she has faced as an athlete competing in a less popular "Cinderella sport" is getting funding to compete on various platforms.
Before departing, Hooke said: "I would like to thank everyone who helped me get this far and hope even greater things are waiting for me in the UK."
She added that her dream was to meet and ride with Ben Maher, who was currently the number-one showjumper in the world, she said.