Boris tells me that if I navigate Sentosa around three oversized plastic pylons, we can move on to something more interesting. It will be a surprise, he promises, dangling this carrot in front of me. On our last attempt, which was also my first (I had never been on a horse), I rode my borrowed chestnut gelding, who won a total of HK$0 in one start at the Sha Tin racetrack, successfully around two pylons and then ... 'Oh, oh,' Boris Yue Man-ho, my riding instructor, says as I approach pylon number three. 'Kick your right foot,' he says. Now is not the time to confuse left with right. Sentosa, described as lazy and placid - and that's by people who love him - meandered his way not around the pylon, but through it. My steering and kicking are not up to par and worse, the pylons are white and do not provide the clear avoid-me warnings generated by neon orange. My second attempt is better, I know, because Boris gives me a bit of encouragement and this time, I managed to kick with the proper foot, although my kicks are not graceful, but soft thuds. We're on to the promised surprise. A thick lead rope is attached to my horse and Boris, one of the instructors at the Lei Yue Mun Public Riding School, wants me to relax the reins and grip the saddle. He warns me the trot can be a little bumpy and it's best if I sit back a bit. The trot is bumpy, but no more so than sitting in the back seat of an old car with whacky suspension. We start working on a rising trot, where I am to stand and sit on the horse as it moves, to give the illusion of us working in tandem, our movements mimicking each other. It makes the trot look smooth and elegant, as though horse and rider are true partners. Boris puts this task into perspective - when dressage riders are trotting, it is compulsory for them to remain still in a sitting trot, meaning their fluid lines must come from exacting precision and the ability to move without appearing to move. No cheating. 'One is stand, two is sit,' Boris says, and while one of the grooms leads Sentosa in a slow walk, Boris barks ones and twos. We move into the rising trot and contrary to the rider/horse partnership cornerstone of equestrianism, I am to ignore the horse and follow Boris' instructions. On the first pass, I get one up-down combination right and on the second, it improves to two, neither a sequence nor a fluke. But regression sets in on try number three as Boris says, kindly, that I was able to get 11/2 up-downs in a row. Before the lesson, Boris showed me his own horse, Shining Gem, who is stabled at Lei Yue Mun and who, in his racing days, was much more successful on the track (career winnings of HK$2.2 million) than Sentosa. Each instructor is assigned a horse and Boris was given Shining Gem, a bay gelding that needs to be equally pushed and encouraged to work. They practise dressage three times a week, jumping at least once and on occasion they'll go out riding in the hills so they can go cross-country fast. The two competed in the local-rider eventing competition during the Good Luck Beijing/HKSAR 10th Anniversary Cup last month, but Shining Gem did not fare well. 'He's still very green,' Boris says. Nervous, Shining Gem spent a lot of time moving his head as he looked at the sparsely populated spectator stands, resulting in penalties in his score. 'Yes, I think [the public] does not understand dressage,' Boris says, but he can't explain it because it's something you have to watch and understand before you can, well, fully understand. Thankfully, Boris doesn't sink into cliches by calling dressage 'horse ballet'. Rather he proves the point of its intricacies with the pylons, with instructions to kick in a metronomic rhythm and by placing me on a horse who, in all his indolence, doesn't want to move, even when I kick him and beg him to go. When the lesson is finished (no jumping today), Boris tells me I did all right simply because I wasn't scared. There is no bravery on my part because at this point, there is nothing to fear - an average of two years is spent transforming the thoroughbreds from racehorses to equestrian horses. We take him back to his stall and the groom hands me a candy for Sentosa which, with accidental cruelty, I drop on the floor. He makes a small neigh as I rush to pick it up, but once he's enjoying the briefest hint of a sugar rush, it's easy to see he is both too lazy and too placid to truly care. With candy, he is no longer being guided into pylons.