Samantha Grace Chan’s performance at the National Youth Games will no doubt be remembered for several reasons. Not only did she become the first local equestrian athlete to win a medal at the event, but she did it while competing on a borrowed horse.
This year was the first time that equestrian events were featured at the National Youth Games, which was held in Shanxi province last month.
Because of quarantine laws, riders from Hong Kong were unable to take their own horses and had to borrow mounts, while mainland competitors rode their own horses. With no experience of competing at such a high level, let alone riding an unfamiliar horse, making it to the podium was the last thing on Samantha’s mind.
But that all changed after she and her partner, an eight-year-old black warmblood named Xiao Liang Liang, pulled off a spectacular performance in the qualification round of the Group A Individual Dressage event. The pair eventually took third place, beating junior riders from all over the mainland to earn Hong Kong its very first equestrian medal at the Games.
Samantha tearfully collected her medal, emotional both from the shock of her success, and from knowing that would soon have to part ways with her one-time partner in success.
Reflecting on the experience with Young Post, the 17-year-old said the bronze medal has given her assurance that she has what it takes to be a professional rider.
“Riding a borrowed horse is a true test of my skills. To be able to win a medal, and not with my own horse, was truly meaningful,” said Samantha.
Going up against riders who already have a close connection with their horses can often feel like a lost cause, but Samantha had a few tricks to help her bond with Xiao Liang Liang.
“I tried to spend as much time as I could with him, and I asked the staff what he was usually like,” Samantha recalled.
“I would observe how he responded to my commands, to stop, go and turn. When it didn’t work, I tried asking in another way, using my hands and legs.”
There is always an element of unpredictability when working with animals; all Samantha can do is make sure that she is in top form, physically and mentally. To achieve that, she trains five days a week at the Beas River Equestrian Centre in Kwu Tung, in the northern New Territories. She may have to cut back her hours soon, though, as she will sit her IB exams next year.
The Chinese International School student is hoping to get into a university either in Britain, the US or Canada. As well as hoping to compete at a higher level, her main reason for wanting to leave Hong Kong is the city’s sweltering heat.
Although the equestrian season here usually takes place during autumn and winter, temperatures can still be around 20 degrees Celsius, much warmer than in non-tropical regions. To avoid getting heat stroke, local riders like Samantha have to get up as early as 4.45am to take part in competitions. Still, she hopes that being accustomed to the hot weather will come in handy when she competes overseas.
“The heat in Hong Kong is really hard for us and the horses; sometimes we need to throw ice on them to help them cool down,” she explained.
“But I also see it as our advantage, because foreign riders get tired easily in the heat.”
Despite having her heart set on studying abroad, Samantha still wants to represent her hometown in future tournaments. For example, one of her biggest goals is to compete in the prestigious Asian Games.
“I have to be able to do that at least once in my career,” she said.