JO MUIR has been learning Japanese so she can talk to horses. It may seem a peculiar way to prepare but when you’re participating in your first Olympic Games you probably don’t want to leave anything to chance.

The 27 year-old grew up on a farm outside the village of Haugh of Urr near Dumfries where she eschewed the more sedentary lifestyle enjoyed by many children today to busy herself in a number of more active pursuits.

Unable to choose a favourite sport, she gradually graduated towards the modern pentathlon, gaining expertise in the five chosen disciplines of fencing, swimming, show jumping, pistol shooting, and cross-country running.

Her rise to number one in the World Cup rankings has been followed by this, a maiden Olympic appearance, when she will form one part of a four-strong team that will head to Tokyo.

“We lived on a farm just a mile outside of a really small village,” she said of her childhood. “At my primary school there were just 60 pupils. But it was great and I loved growing up there.

“I was literally outside doing sport or playing on the farm my entire childhood. That definitely helped me become an athlete as I would never just sit still and watch a film, I was always keeping busy.

“I started pony club when I was seven and absolutely loved horse riding. At pony club there’s a discipline called tetrathlon which is running, swimming, shooting and horse riding which is four of the five events of pentathlon. So that made me think I would like to give pentathlon a go which also meant learning to fence. That was one route into it.

“But I also did some biathlons - running and swimming - when I was at school and qualified for the national finals in Bath. I was 14 at the time and I remember just loving it and thinking I would like to give it a proper go and try to become a full-time athlete. Then I came to uni in Bath in 2012 and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind since then.”

Lockdown presented challenges for all athletes and Muir returned home and got creative with her training regime.

“I tried to treat it as a positive and do some of the things that I wouldn’t usually have time to do,” she explained. “Me and my brother tried to make a farm gym using things we could find around the place.

“It was actually amazing as I had lived there for 18 years of my life and never really explored what was right on our doorstep.

“So to be able to go out running from home was great. I also took up road biking using my dad’s bike and then bought one when I went back to Bath which was good cardio. And then I started swimming in the river which was good fun too. It was nice just to mix it up a bit and do something different. I basically took up triathlon for a few months!”

Among the challenges facing every pentathlete is trying to familiarise with a horse you’ve only just met moments before having to ride them in competition. And tricky situations often require some lateral thinking.

“I sometimes blow up the horse’s nostrils!” confirmed Muir of a tactic used by many riders to get their steed onside. “Or I’ll go over a few minutes before and stroke it and have a chat with it. And when you get on it’s just making sure you’re not too nervous as the horse can definitely sense if you’re a bit uptight.

“It’s about keeping calm, going through the transitions and getting it really listening to you before you try to jump. The warm-up is key.

“I talk to the horses and I’d like to think it’s a two-way conversation! It’s funny because a lot of the horses we ride are foreign so if we’re in France I’ll say ‘Bonjour!’ which is probably really silly. I’ve been learning some Japanese so I think ‘Konnichi wa’ is hello so that might help.”

Muir’s first Olympic memory is watching Kelly Holmes win double gold in 2004 while she also became familiar with Steph Cooke’s story when she was a bit older, the Irvine-born athlete winning modern pentathlon gold in the inaugural women’s event at the 2000 Games.

She would love to follow in the footsteps of both women if she could.

“At any competition you go wanting to win a medal and get on that podium. I don’t think just because it’s the Olympic Games you have to think any differently. For me it’s more about just focusing on each individual event and just doing the best that I can. If that comes together then the result should sort itself out.”