"Growing up, I was always a typical pony-obsessed girl, with countless horse posters spread around my bedroom,” Carla Cousins says. With her lifelong love of horses, it was only natural that she’d want to actually ride. After being on the waiting list for Pokfulam Riding School’s oversubscribed three-month beginner course for what filled like ages, a place finally opened up about four years ago.
Afterwards, she joined the Hong Kong Pony Club and started riding with the Lo Wu Saddle Club, where she has been riding ever since. Now, she has a livery horse, Happy Eagle, who she rides every day to stay prepared for competitions.
“I love everything about riding,” the 16-year-old tells Young Post. Being able to sit upon and train a strong, independent animal is such a liberating feeling.”
One of the most frustrating things for a rider to hear is that the sport is easy because “you just sit there and do nothing”. Explaining this is far from true, Carla says: “Controlling and putting all your trust into an unpredictable animal, 10 times your size with a mind of its own, requires not only skill, but a mutual understanding and bond too.”
Horses may be beautiful and graceful animals, but they’re also tall, fast, powerful, and can be spooked, which means that riding can be dangerous. Jessica Mendoza, the British show jumper and Carla’s idol, suffered a punctured lung after her horse threw her off when she was 10. That didn’t stop Mendoza, now 20, from regaining confidence and becoming one of Britain’s top equestrian athletes. Mendoza’s resilience inspires Carla, who admires her skill and devotion to the sport.
Carla rode with her school South Island’s Equestrian Team when they entered the HKEF Inter-school Equestrian Challenge 2016 – Higher Division Finals in April. Before they were ready to compete at the Lo Wu Saddle Club, the team dedicated “countless hours” to training by riding at different schools and on different horses, while formulating strategies for the big day.
The competition rules stated that competitors couldn’t ride their own horses, so it was a unnerving experience for Carla to see someone else riding her horse. “I’m so used to riding him, so seeing someone else ride him and seeing him move from a different point of view was especially strange,” she says.
The team took on riders from German Swiss International School and Hong Kong International School, but it was King George V that turned out to be their biggest threat.
“KGV had a strong, competitive team that were currently coming in first place in the finals with 403.62 points, whereas my team has 401.82 points,” she recalls. SIS ended up placing second overall, after coming third in dressage and fourth in jumping. In the dressage, Carla rode Roy and came third, and then came fourth on the back of a “fiery” horse called Mr Hector.
“I was disappointed that our team didn’t end up winning,” she says. “However, I was proud of how we all rode as best we could. I felt relieved that it was over, and all the hard work and dedication paid off. Mostly, I felt happy about how we did, and proud of how our team came together.”
Although horse riding has Carla’s heart, she is a self-described sport-lover, who plays netball, swims, runs cross country, and wants to take up rugby, as its fast-paced action appeals to her thrill-seeking side.
Despite most stables and schools being in the New Territories, about as far from school as is possible, Carla’s close bond with Happy Eagle and her team means she does it happily. After all, she has lofty goals.
“I’d love to compete at a higher level in places like Europe, which means training harder than ever,” she says. “It won’t be easy, but I’m confident my determination will see me through!”
What song best describes you when you’re horse riding?
On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons. Yes, it’s cheesy, but it describes exactly how I feel, even in awkward moments.
You can have the abilities of any animal during one competition. Which do you choose and why?
A horse, of course! It’d help me understand the way they think, and communicate with them better.
What’s your favourite thing to eat before a big event?
French fries – they are my comfort food! They make me happy and relaxed: perfect before a big event.
Which fictional character would you choose as your teammate?
Hazel Levesque from author Rick Riordan’s The Heroes of Olympus series, because she is determined, and never backs down from a challenge – like me! Plus, she is a good horsewoman with her fantastic horse, Arion.
10 years in the future, you are a famous athlete. What company are you a spokesperson for, and what product do you promote?
Kingsland Equestrian. They have the best products for horse and rider. I wouldn’t be able to choose a specific product, I’d want to wear them all!