Operation Santa Claus

For Hong Kong Paralympian Natasha Tse Pui-ting, horse riding is more than just about medals

The 19-year-old equestrian athlete sees her sport as a source of inspiration and training for her body

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 12:21pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 November, 2016, 3:39pm

“Walk on” may be words of encouragement spoken to her horse by Hong Kong’s Paralympic equestrian athlete Natasha Tse Pui-ting, but they are also words she has been living by for the last 15 years of her horse riding journey.

Tse, 19, who has cerebral palsy from premature birth, was back on her practice routine of two days per week, after returning from the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in September.

Despite not bagging any medals for the two dressage events that she qualified for, Tse’s love for her sport of elegance and precision did not change.

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“I will be riding for life, with or without a medal,” Tse, who picked up riding from the age of four, said.

Tse’s condition impaired her limb movements and hand-eye coordination, but she found that her body responded well after training in dressage – a horse riding sport that requires the rider to cooperate with the horse to make it walk, trot, canter or perform complex movements such as going round in very small circles and even skips, to look as if they are dancing.

“Without riding, I will perhaps be less tough and can be troubled by what my body can’t do instead of being so optimistic,” Tse, who was also the youngest in the dressage event at the 2012 London Paralympics, said.

I will be riding for life, with or without a medal
Natasha Tse Pui-ting, Paralympian

Once barely able to walk properly, Tse attended the Rio Paralympics opening parade “on foot’’, adding that she now only gets tired after walking for an hour.

Tse’s trip to Rio was funded by the Riding for the Disabled Association through Operation Santa Claus – a fundraiser organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK.

Having competed at the Paralympics for the second time, Tse felt she was less nervous than before but had also underperformed as her four-legged partner lost focus.

“But it was also my responsibility to make [the horse] understand my instructions. Both of us tried our best,” she said, adding she had no regrets being the only one representing Hong Kong in individual equestrian events in Rio.

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“Horses are like human beings. They sometimes have their tempers too ... and at times they don’t want to practise, just like when I have my bad days,” Tse said.

“But I will communicate with the horse, using my eyes and body language, showing it encouragement, and then it will walk on.”

Tse, who is now in her fourth year in secondary school in Hong Kong, aspires to become a horse riding trainer or a sports psychologist one day.

“I received a lot of help from my trainer and psychologist. My horse riding dream would be impossible without their support. I want to make that same impact on other people,’’ Tse said.