Horsing around

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

In the wake of the Olympics events in the city, four Hong Kong students talk to our reporters about their trip to the UK to further their equestrian careers

While most people in Hong Kong have been left puzzling over the equestrian Olympic events held in the city, four Hongkongers recently visited Britain to experience more of the equine world.

Despite its isolation from the rest of the horse sporting world, Hong Kong has a number of dedicated young riders. Jemma Rogers, Amanda Budge, Sarah Devereux and India Fleischer-Ballard, all from West Island School, won gold at the Hong Kong Interschool Equestrian Challenge in April at Happy Valley, beating teams from 11 other schools including King George V School, Sha Tin College and Chinese International School.

Their prize was a trip to Britain's Hartpury College, one of the leading equestrian colleges in the UK, where students can learn all about equine care.

The week included riding lessons, a visit to a stud farm, cross-country riding, the opportunity to meet and watch an Olympic-standard rider train and a visit to the RDA National Championships.

One of the most interesting aspects of the trip was seeing the training and therapeutic equipment. This included a high-speed treadmill which is used to exercise and train the horses and an 'aqua-fit' water treadmill which keeps horses fit while they're recovering from injuries by allowing them to exercise in a weightless environment.

Another unique experience was the visit to the stud farm. As there are no breeding facilities in the city, the horses ridden in Hong Kong are imported from Australia and New Zealand as race horses, then taken to riding schools when their racing careers are over. The girls had therefore never seen pregnant mares or foals until this trip.

'It was raining when we arrived, so all the mares and the foals were brought in and we got to see all the foals, which was an amazing opportunity - we don't get foals in Hong Kong,' says Amanda.

'With the slightly older foals, we were allowed to pet them and it was amazing, because they were so playful. We opened the gate and one little foal tried to run out... They were like giant puppies!'

Cross-country riding isn't possible in Hong Kong. While a course was built here for the Olympics, it was partly situated on a golf course, so of course it had to be dismantled. Only Jemma had ever ridden cross-country before, so the girls relished the chance to learn with Tim Downes, one of the 40 Fellows of the British Horse Society.

The girls were also able to visit the stables Downes runs. Ingestre Stables is one of the UK's leading equestrian establishments, which the students described as 'absolutely amazing ... a place where there's a real love for the horses that they have', and the highlight of the trip.

The trip has reinforced the girls' interest in equestrianism and hopes for a horse-filled future. Not only will all four of them continue to ride, Amanda has her sights set on a career as an equine vet while the other three declared almost in unison, 'I want to ride in the Olympics'.