‘Keep trying’ is the message from English show jumping legend John Whitaker
Similar message drummed into the ears of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Equestrian Training Squad across the weekend at the Longines Grand Prix and Masters at AsiaWorld-Expo
John Whitaker’s legend has been forged over more than four decades competing at the highest levels of show jumping, through Olympic Games and World Championships that have filled his trophy cabinet to overflowing.
If Whitaker talks about the sport, it pays to listen, so when he was asked after competing in the marquee Longines Grand Prix on Sunday if he could share the secret to success in the sport, you could have heard a pin drop inside AsiaWorld-Expo.
The 61-year-old Englishman warmed immediately to role of sage, rubbed his chin and said: “You just have to keep trying.”
A similar message was being drummed into the ears of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Equestrian Training Squad (Jets) across the weekend.
This elite group of riders is the future of the sport in Hong Kong, and they were for the first time given the chance to display their talents in front of the Longines Masters audience.
Two exhibition events were held - including a two-round Grand Prix-style competition on Sunday – with horses flown in from the Ecuries d’Ecaussinnes stables in Belgium.
The Jets riders warmed to the opportunity of performing in front of not only the public, but their peers in the sport.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” said 20-year-old Jets rider Oi Man-leung. “Even though it’s not the real thing, just being able to ride on horses we’ve never ridden before is a great experience.”
It was a chance to get close to some heroes, too, and Leung admitted to keeping a close eye on German star Marco Kutscher.
“I really like how he rides,” she said. “He’s really soft with his horses and his horses just look like they really want to do well for him.
“It’s been a great experience for us to be able to watch all these top riders in action. It’s a really good learning experience, getting into the warm-ups and seeing how they prepare their horses for the big classes. There’s a lot to learn from them.”
HKJC-sponsored senior equestrian team rider Jacqueline Lai was an example of just that.
Lai – who turns 26 on Wednesday – faced a massive jump in class in competing in the weekend’s main events against world and Olympic champions and assorted other legends of the sport.
Lai freely also admitted to worrying about how she might perform coming in to the weekend, with intense local attention naturally focused on one of our own.
“There was a huge build up but it all came together at the end,” she said.
Lai said she was even able to get “a big sleep” in before the event started, before taking the highs – and the lows – of the weekend in her stride.
When her mount baulked at a jump in the Grand Prix, thereby ending Lai’s weekend, she smiled and shrugged – and the audience warmly applauded her efforts.
Another lesson for the likes of Leung to take on board as they look to the future.
“I really like the bond between horse and rider – it’s not like any other sport,” said Leung. “It’s just really special. I really enjoy developing that partnership. It’s important have to good communication with horse.
“It’s hard to say what’s going to come in the future. But we are definitely trying our hardest.”