Horse whisperer's passion to jump
United States-born Raena Leung is sparing no expense in chasing her dream to represent Hong Kong
She can speak Cantonese, Putonghua, French and German, but when Raena Leung Hou-ling whispers to her horse to urge him to find his flying feet, it is English she uses.
Born in the United States, the multilingual Hong Kong showjumper has put on hold a career as a sports psychologist as she tries to crack the big time.
"My heart told me to ride," says Leung as she reveals in horse-language her dreams of one day representing Hong Kong at the Asian Games, or even being selected to represent the city when the biggest equestrian show since the Beijing Olympics, the Longines Hong Kong Masters, hits town next February.
"I hope I will be the one to represent Hong Kong in the main competition against the world's best riders. That would be something," says Leung, who was in town last week having taken part in three legs of the FEI World Cup Showjumping China League in Beijing and Chengdu.
The Germany-based Leung, 24, won the event in Beijing and entered Chengdu with hopes of retaining her overall top position in the standings so as to qualify for next April's World Cup final in Gothenburg, Sweden. But a fourth-place finish saw Leung drop to second behind the mainland's Liu Tongyen.
"We ended up with the same points as they only take the two best scores out of the three legs, but since the Chengdu show had a higher rating, he was the overall winner," Leung said.
"However, I have not given up hope as I still might have a chance to go to the World Cup final.
"If the winner decides not to go, the runner-up will be called up and I have heard from some people that Liu might not go to Gothenburg."
Leung believes she can raise her level in Sweden if the opportunity presents itself simply because she will be riding her own horse, Orphee Du Granit, a 10-year-old gelding she recently purchased. In China, she had to ride on mounts given by the organisers.
Orphee Du Granit, a handsome-looking beast, cost Leung €200,000 (HK$2.02 million) plus another horse she had to trade in. But it has been a worthwhile investment.
"All my best results have come from him. I hit it off with him the very first time I rode him. We just flew over the fences and I knew this was the horse for me," says Leung.
Unlike the other leading riders representing Hong Kong, Leung is not sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club. She has a stable of four horses, all thanks to the generosity of her mother.
She might be the outsider when set next to Patrick Lam, Samantha Lam, Kenneth Cheng Man-kit or Jacqueline Lai Jing-man, all backed by the Jockey Club which has provided them with horses, but now she wants to become part of that group which won a team bronze in showjumping at the last Asian Games in Guangzhou.
"I hope I can represent Hong Kong at the next Asian Games [in 2014 in Incheon, South Korea] and I'm also targeting the World Equestrian Games [in Normandy,France, in 2014]. These are two of my goals. I have put on hold my career to chase this dream," said the California-born Leung.
A former student at Chinese International School, Leung left Hong Kong in 2006 to study in England. She graduated from University College London with a degree in psychology and then had to choose between pursuing her dream or a career.
"Riding has been such a passion for a long time. I started when I was six and after all these years I felt to give it up would mean living with regret," said Leung.
"At the back of my mind, I knew if things didn't work out, I could always fall back on becoming a sports psychologist."
Luckily Leung does not have financial pressures. An only child, her parents (the family business is real estate and enamelware) are backing her dream. Along with Orphee Du Granit, she has found a new coach - Mike Patrick Leichle - a German whose motto is "no risk, no reward; no guts no glory".
When she was four, Leung begged her mum to take her horse riding. But the rules at the public riding school only permitted children who were over 27 kilograms to get on a horse. "I started eating as much as I could. I ate loads of junk food in the hope of putting on weight," she reminisced. Leung had to wait until she was six before she reached the required weight.
Today, a slim 24, Leung is waiting for her opportunity to represent Hong Kong at the Asian Games, and possibly at the Hong Kong Masters.