Instincts work perfectly

Instincts work perfectly

Two aspiring jockeys chose their career by chance, but believe they are riding a winner

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Trainee jockeys Keith Yeung Ming-lun and Cheung Hiu-ming.
Trainee jockeys Keith Yeung Ming-lun and Cheung Hiu-ming.
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP
Most students plan their futures by choosing a conventional career, but some, such as Keith Yeung Ming-lun, prefer to follow their instincts and challenge themselves by following the path presented by destiny.

Yeung had little clue about what to do with his life until he glanced at a recruitment advertisement placed by the Hong Kong Jockey Club in search of trainee jockeys. "I was 16 and had just completed Form Four when I saw an advert by chance," Yeung says. "I thought, 'Maybe I could give it a try'."

Now 23 and a full-time jockey, he says the first moment he came into contact with the horses at Sha Tin's Apprentice Jockey's School (AJS), everything became clear and he knew his instincts about his career were correct.

"Every horse has a different face - and a different character too, once I got to know them," he says. "Some are nice and loyal, while some are nervous and moody. We have to learn how to speak to them in a soft, gentle voice that is comforting to them."

Yeung had done little sport before starting at the school, and admits that it was tough at the beginning. "Every morning we get up at 4am and have lessons and training until around 6.30am. Riding a horse is also very tiring. So we all go to bed by 9pm."

He was happy to embrace every challenge and has done well; within three years he has won 70races - the requirement for apprentices to become jockeys. He clinched his final win as an apprentice last December. "It's hard to win races," he says. "Hong Kong has very high standards. But I just tried my best to keep improving."

In contrast, his schoolmate Cheung Hiu-ming, 20, is still in the early stages of his apprenticeship as a jockey, and is being closely observed and assessed by trainers.Cheung also read about the apprenticeship by chance and at first was afraid to tell his parents when he submitted his application in 2009, after completing his Form Five study. "It was not a traditional career path and I worried what they would think," Cheung says.

"When I finally told them, they were concerned about my safety and if I'd get injured [from falling off a horse]. But they're very supportive now they can see that I really like it."

He has high hopes for his career. "I want to test my ability in races. I want to be a successful jockey and be known by Hong Kong people. The jockey's school and training offers a clear goal in life, which I didn't have before."

Training to become a jockey is challenging and can take up to six years, but it is gaining in popularity among young people, says Amy Chan Lim-chee, head-mistress of AJS.

"Students can also choose to develop a career in different paths, such as equestrianism or racing management. Our students learn to live a disciplined life and how to handle challenges in life. And they learn to live life with a passion."

Yeung is proud of his job. "I've seen and learnt many things, met people from all walks of life and learnt how to communicate with them. Our job puts us under the spotlight, which helps to make us more responsible," he says.

Apprenticeship recruitment takes place each summer and is open to students, aged 16 or over, who have completed Form Four.

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