In most Olympic sports, athletes try their best to beat a competitive opponent, or to overcome their own erratic performances, but in equestrian events in Hong Kong, they need to put some extra efforts on their equine pals.
Off the arena, riders offer meticulous care to their horses. In the arena, they often thankfully pat their horses after a successful show of dressage or jumping, while gently stroke them and comfort them after a failed movement.
Equestrianism, the only Olympic sport in which humans team up with animals, requires the horse and rider to establish a rapport in order to deliver a flawless performance. And only in such a state can the pair tackle the arduous movements the sport requires.
Germany's Hinrich Romeike, individual eventing gold medalist, said his horse Marius is a part of his life and he could not image "a life without him", adding that riding for a while after work was his everyday routine.
In case of an injury, even a minor one, riders would often choose not to continue with the competition for the sake of health of their horses.
Dutch medal hopeful Imke Schellekens-Bartels withdrew from Saturday's Grand Prix Special following the injury of her horse Sunrise.
"The injury must have developed during the competition on Thursday, before she was 100 percent in order. But afterwards we noticed a small problem that could well develop into something bigger and could harm the horse. This is the last thing I would want," said Schellekens-Bartels.
French rider Nicolas Touzaint, gold medalist of eventing team in the 2004 Games, also pulled out from the competition due to injury of his horse, a decision he made 10 minutes before the start of the events.
Japanese rider Hiroshi Hoketsu, at 67 the oldest competitor of the Beijing Games, made a comeback 44 years after his Olympic debut in the Tokyo Games.
First learning to ride at 12, Hoketsu competed in the Tokyo Games, finishing 40th in the show-jumping discipline. In the 1984 Los Angeles Games, he was a reserve and did not take part in the competition. He was chosen for the Seoul Games in 1988 but pulled out because his horse had quarantine problems.
In summing up of his experience as a veteran rider, Hoketsu said training a horse requires getting inside their minds.
He said one of the keys is to establish a close rapport with the horse. "You have to understand them, rather than ask them to understand you and you need to understand what kind of situation they are in and what you can ask of them," he said.
"It's even harder to find the perfect horse than to find a boyfriend," said Chinese rider Liu Lina. Her horse was a 12-year- old Anglo-Arab named Piroschka, whom Liu said she loved "at the first sight".
In preparation for the Games, Liu went to Europe to scout for a horse. After quite some time of frustration, she found Piroschka. "When Piroschka appeared, I was quite stunned. My experience told me this was the very one," she recalled.
Liu described the chestnut-colored mare as "something of a character", "very gentle and understanding." "She was named after a beautiful Hungarian goddess, and when she is in the dressage arena, it is just like the personification of beauty," said Liu.
Hong Kong rider Patrick Lam shocked the crowd on Friday with a flawless display on his horse Urban in the preliminary round of the showjumping competition.
Lam cleared all 12 obstacles and 15 fences without a single fault, and also finished the course well within the 88 seconds permitted.
Lam attributed much of his success to the excellent performance delivered by the 11-year-old Urban.
"I'm very happy with my horse, he jumped really well," Lam said, adding that the horse did 150 percent of his best.
(Xinhua News Agency August 18, 2008)