Support group helped get rider to Paralympics
The Paralympics equestrian events ended last week, but for Hong Kong competitor Nelson Yip Siu-hong, the impact of the event on his life is far from over.
'I met many excellent riders from around the world,' said Yip, who with his horse Icy Bet secured 15th place among 17 contestants. 'It was eye-opening.
'And I had to overcome a lot of ups and downs, too, as I prepared for the competition. That strengthened my character.'
Yip developed as a rider through courses offered by the Riding for the Disabled Association. The organisation was a beneficiary of Operation Santa Claus last year, receiving financial support from the Macquarie Group to offer more courses and provide intensive training for Yip, both in local and overseas competitions.
The only organisation in Hong Kong providing riding services for the disabled, it funds nearly 6,000 riding hours a year - or 15 hours for each of the 400 participating children and adults.
Michael Lee Tze-hau, leader of the Hong Kong team, said riding was a unique sport that had both physical and psychological benefits. For example, it stretched a rider's muscles, improving mobility and posture.
And since riding involves communication and co-operation with the horse, whose movements are unpredictable, it can also improve communication skills and build a sense of independence and confidence.
Competitive riding, as opposed to the recreational sport, also required riders to go through repetitive training, acquire new skills and push their own limits, just like athletes in other sports, Mr Lee said.
The association aims to recruit and train more riders to become sportsmen or sportswomen, and has already identified four or five riders to begin training after the Paralympics. It is hoping to increase the scope of its services to provide 8,000 riding hours, benefiting 550 to 600 people within the next two years.
'With more resources, we will be able to reach out to more people, train potential riders, and make a bigger impact - both among the riders and the public community,' Mr Lee said. 'I took my friends to watch the Paralympics and they were all very impressed and humbled by the sportsmanship demonstrated.
'When you talk to the riders, they don't even seem aware that they have disability concerns. They just focus on what they've got, and what they can do at a premium sports event.
'I remember one rider telling me that 'disability is not inability'. I think that says it all.'