Alex Hua Tian is no stranger to the big stage. At the age of 18, he became the youngest rider in Olympic Eventing history when he competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He remains China’s first and only event rider to compete internationally at the advanced level.
Now 8 years later, Hua Tian is back at the Olympics as his native country’s lone representative for his sport with a talented but green 9-year-old Oldenburg gelding Don Geniro. On Monday, the pair rebounded from a middling dressage test with a magnificently bold and honest gallop around the cross-country gauntlet, finishing clear with 13.2 time penalties, jumping into 11th place overall heading into show jumping.
“He’s the most talented horse I’ve ever sat on,” Hua Tian remarked after the round. “And he’s still learning. That last minute and a half we were really working hard. He defined ‘two hearts’ in my mind at that last water. He had very little in the thank. I was screaming at the top of my lungs, which I never do, and he absolutely tried his guts out and I couldn’t be more happy with him…As he gets stronger in the next few years I think he’s going to be something quite unbeatable.”
Like many international riders, Hua Tiang makes his home in the UK where he shares a yard with his girlfriend, professional dressage rider Sarah Higgins, who initially tried to make a dressage horse out of Don Geniro.
“He started in the dressage world and he was 7th in the 5-year-old nationals in the UK,” Hua Tian explanied. “It’s strange to believe it because he’s hot as anything on the flat now. She gave him to me to sell him but he really took to the training and within six months he won a one-star. The varied lifestyle and also the time we’ve given him has really suited him.”
Born in London, Alex and his family soon moved to his father’s native China where he learned to ride at age 4. His family eventually moved back to the UK, where Alex further developed his equestrian education.
His riding ability and skill is evidenced by his accomplishments, but you really get a sense of his keen horsemanship in this wonderfully produced short documentary by filmmaker Sedon Tenzin which focuses on the relationship between the rider and the horse.
As Hua Tian notes in the film: “What this sport tests…it’s not just a test of power and speed, it’s a test on how strong the communication is between rider and horse.”
Take 13 minutes and watch. You’ll be glad you did.
*Interview by Carley Sparks