One of Hong Kong’s top equestrian stars Nathaniel Chan likens show jumping and horse riding to dancing.
“The horse is your dance partner, and the rhythm is important, [so is] getting the in right beat and having chemistry, and also having the confidence to do it,” explained the King George V student.
Nathaniel, now 18, rode his first horse when he was eight years old, and has been riding seriously since he was 11.
“I was inspired by my sister when I saw her [competing] at the junior championships,” he said.
Since then, he has become Hong Kong’s top junior show jumper, as he claimed the Gold Medal at the 2nd Asian Equestrian Federation Junior Jumping Championship in December and was selected to represent Hong Kong in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Unfortunately, he will not be able to attend, as he starts at the University of San Francisco in the US in the next academic year.
While the support of his sister, and the coaches from the Hong Kong Jockey Club have contributed to his success, none of it would’ve been possible without his trusty horse Acceleration. “We have good chemistry,” Nathaniel said. “I know what he’s thinking and he knows what I do, and we just work really well together.”
Unfortunately, participating in tournaments overseas means he has to deal with horses that are absolute strangers. “They just give you a random horse and you only have 20 minutes to understand your chemistry and figure out what he can or can’t do,” he said. “It’s really difficult and a lot of it depends on luck.”
Nathaniel said that in these situations, showjumping is kind of like poker. “You hope you draw a good horse,” he said. “You get dealt certain cards and you just do your best with what you’re dealt.”
Being given a bad horse can have disastrous consequences, however: two years ago, Nathaniel was thrown off a horse, and dislocated his shoulder. He had to have surgery, and took more than three months to recover.
“That was the toughest stretch of my career,” said Nathan. “I had to deal with that injury on top of my GCSE exams, and I became super unfit.” But he came back stronger, thanks to relentless hard work and dedication.
“I go to the stables to train six days a week,” he said. “It’s not just about keeping myself fit, but also keeping my horse fit. We have to make sure he is comfortable and relaxed, while also practising things like distance and rhythm.”
The business and marketing student said he may consider working in the equestrian business once his riding career is over. “The sport involves a bit of a business,” Nathaniel said. “There’s the buying and selling of horses, and also understanding customer demands and trends.”
His advice to anyone considering equestrianism is to make sure you love horses. “To me, horses are like my friends or pets,” he said. “Sometimes you have arguments with them, but sometimes they do stuff that amazes you, and you bond over the common interest of loving to compete and exercise.
“It’s an expensive sport to take up, so make sure you’re dedicated; you have to prove that you are worthy enough for the HKJC to sponsor you,” he added. “But be committed, work hard, and you will reap the rewards.”