What's in store for HK's equestrian community?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 August, 2008, 12:00am

For many in Hong Kong's equestrian community, the post-Olympics period is just as important as the Games themselves. There is no point in bringing some of the world's best to Hong Kong if nothing remains afterwards.

The promise of an Olympic legacy is a requirement for the host city, although the gift of continuation differs from one Olympics to another. In Hong Kong, there are worries whether hosting the Games will be a turning point for the sport.

From the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the public riding schools will receive the footing used in the Olympic arenas at Sha Tin and the obstacles built for the showjumping. Despite the welcomed upgrades, it is unlikely these legacies will increase the number of training arenas or help reduce the number of people on a near two-year waiting list for weekend riding lessons.

'A permanent riding centre,' said one member of the equestrian community when asked what an Olympic legacy meant to him.

'More arenas, more shows,' said another.

'Horses,' offered a third, referring to the purchase of warm-bloods, as opposed to the retired racehorses that are used by the majority of riders.

There are two major issues. In Hong Kong, it involves building on the success of the Olympics at a beginner's level and furthering the development of young promising riders. For those at a higher level, it involves training and competing at a higher level, most likely in Europe.

Sacha Eckjans, the Olympic team's chef de mission who is also to replace Soenke Lauterbach as the Hong Kong Equestrian Federation's secretary-general later this year, believes Hong Kong is more than able to continue to rise on an international stage.

'When you look at the past one, two, three years, I think Hong Kong made a really big step on a high level in equestrian sport,' Eckjans said. 'Just to be here is, for me, a very good sign. I think we have to sit together with the federation and the people behind the scenes to do the best for the future.'

Chief among the concerns will be the return of the international shows, which Hong Kong hosted for the first time in 2007, and many are rightly worried by the fact the shows were cancelled this season.

The reason was an alteration in quarantine requirements and given that the arenas would be dismantled and the stables handed over to Jockey Club's racing operations, Hong Kong did not have any space to fulfil the new requirements.

Though some are concerned the absence this year is a signal of the following years, HKEF vice-president Edwin McAuley says the federation understands the importance for the series of four shows.

'Getting the series back, the shows we had last year, is very important,' McAuley said. 'The federation is desperately keen to do something. To be honest we have had to back off doing anything [except for the] Olympic Games for the last few months but now the Games are over we will be back trying to broaden the base.'

The next date in mind is 2010, the year of the World Equestrian Games, the Asian Games and the Youth Olympics.

Money will be a big precursor, but even more is the fact that Hong Kong will have to qualify - no more wildcards.

'Everybody inside the sport understands this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for Hong Kong to qualify in that way,' said McAuley of the Games wildcard Hong Kong was offered to send a jumping team and a dressage rider, if one had qualified. 'But having done that it means we've built up a base of experience we've never had.'

But the legacy must extend beyond the three showjumpers who were able to take part in the Games and some are anxious about the criteria for future competitions.

'I want to know the criteria for selection,' said Ellen Ng, whose eldest daughter, Jacqueline, is aiming for the 2010 Asian Games and whose younger daughter, Jasmine, would be a candidate for the Youth Olympics. 'I want to know what their plans are and if they will consider Jacqueline for the team. If there is no space at all for anyone [except those who participated in the Olympics] at the Asian Games, then there's no point in being here. The girls can go to Europe.'

Jacqueline Lai, 17, competed in this year's Southeast Asia World Cup qualifiers in Malaysia, finishing as high as second in the World Cup classes.

A group of riders including Jacqueline Lai went to Malaysia for the five World Cup shows and the riders all performed well, with Jennifer Chang finishing third overall in the league. But in the shows, there were also smaller classes for the developing riders and Edson Lyra, the father of one of those riders, also wants to understand the federation's intentions.

Lyra's daughter, Clarissa, is keen to go to the Youth Olympics, but they don't know what sort of support the federation is offering to reach that goal. Still, they hold out hope a legacy will appear. 'If you can organise the Olympics, you can do anything,' says Lyra, adding he hoped to see more competitions and overall support for the sport.

Samantha Lam, who competed in the Games, offered to do her part.

'Anybody who wants to come to Europe for lessons and training and competition, then my stables are open,' said Lam, who is based in Belgium. 'We can work together for improving the sport in Hong Kong and bringing riders to a better and higher level.'

Ng hopes the sport will expand both in numbers and in the level of its horses and riders. This is the time, she says, and if it's not built upon now, then she is unsure when it ever will.

'If you don't grab this opportunity, then there won't be another one,' Ng said.

Forward planning

Officials and competitors know this is a golden opportunity

The World Equestrian Games will take place in: 2010