London - "The Beijing Olympics is my home Olympics, it's a once in a life time occasion," 21-year-old Chinese equestrian rider Hua Tian says, "While the London Olympics will be almost as exciting for me because it's the sport's home Olympics."
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In his "Team China" Polo shirt on a steaming hot July afternoon, Hua is about to hop on his horse for the London Prepares series ahead of the Olympics in 2012. The three-day competition includes all the equestrian games, dressage, eventing and jumping; and hosted on the hills of Greenwich Park, London, the equestrian site for the games next year.
And it is dashing to see Hua riding his horses in person speeding through the 19 fences across the cross country course all under one and a half minute. After a sharp whistle announcing the arrival of the rider, Hua and his horse of choice – Furst Love, appears from the back of the hill, jumping one fence after another.
Like a slow motion replay, the pair leaps over the London skyline. For a brief moment it looks like being frozen in the air, before landing on the ground, as promptly and as elegant as a prince would be.
Equestrian is about precision and the laser-sharp Hua has it all – including his career ambition. He was the youngest in the equestrian eventing competition in the Beijing Olympics, as well as the first to represent China in the events.
"I love what I do, I love my lifestyle, I love the horses, I'd never give it up," he says.
Horse riding might have enjoyed modest popularity in China, yet Hua is a celebrity figure being surrounded by blocks of fans and cheers whenever he is back in the country. After the loss in Beijing Olympics, Hua is challenging himself for a place in the world ranking and the chance for a medal in the Olympics next year.
"Obviously, Beijing Olympics was amazing for me. My first Olympics," says Hua, adding that the 2012 Olympics means competition in the hometown of equestrian riding. Britain is also his birthplace and where he studies and practices his craft.
"Eventing is strongest here in Britain, all the best riders in the world are based here. … So for us we would have the best crowd, organization, and hopefully, the best time as well. I am really, really looking forward to it."
Hua's passion for horses runs deep into his childhood. At four, he found his joy in riding horses in a country club at the outskirt of Beijing, when his parents lived there.
When his parents moved to Hong Kong, a place known for tall skyscrapers and not enough green countryside vital for horse practicing, he was privileged to rider a pony and received basic training to be a casual rider.
At 15, Hua has started to become serious in horse riding. He won the Queen's Plate at the Royal Windsor Horse Show and gained the prize from Queen Elizabeth II.
As a star student at Eton, he aced most of his subjects in Britain's finest public school but still managed to spend time to get training with horses, developing an intimate relationship like no other.
"It's a very difficult relationship to explain rider and horses because they're like my friends, they're like my children, like my family, they are closer to me than most people are," says Hua. "They almost feel a part of you when you're riding them."
Getting the horses to be trained to perform and excel is another story. It is a multi-year commitment competing in qualified games hosted in countries around the world and millions of pounds to spend in the whole process that begins from selecting horses to receiving proper training.
"Obviously I compete in a very, sort of on a face glamor sports. We wear tails and top hats and the horses are obviously beautiful, trained very beautifully."
"But at the same time, eventing is a very British sports," says Hua. "There is a lot of hard work at home, a lot of training, a lot of blood sweat and tears go into the finishing products that you will see."
For London Olympics, Hua needs five outstanding qualifying scores to compete with the top players by March next year. With qualifying games hosted around the world during the game season, it means running a hectic, training-packed daily routine with preparations after another.
"It's no day ever the same. They're always out competing, or out on the training, home training is always different," says Hua. "That's the great thing about the sport. It's so diverse, it has three different things to train for. It's difficult to explain, but always very interesting, very exciting, very different every day. No two days are the same."
But that cannot come in full circle without the emotional and professional support backed by his family, who are very much involved in all aspect of his game from planning schedules to looking after the media. His mother Sarah Noble, for example, is working as Hua's PR manager and responsible for organizing his presence in the press.
"My family all has different roles. They're all important in what we called Team China."
"It's just like any family, 80 percent of the time we're all fighting, and arguing, and then 20 percent of the time is brilliant and we work beautifully together," he says.
Like any other sportsperson, Hua is putting his head up and getting prepared for his next big thing as the countdown of Olympics is only a year away.
"Short term goal is obviously next year - the Olympics. That's a very big goal obviously. That's what everything is being ahead for," says Hua.
Of course, Hua has been there before. In 2008 he carried all the glory and hope representing one of six Chinese riders in the Beijing Olympics and had a perfect start of the game, only to be disqualified after falling from his horse in the cross country round.
He later told the press that it was his own fault and he "completely messed it up." And with his steady eye contact, he talks about the lesson of his career in the most sincere tone that you'd expect from an Eton graduate.
"It's what we called the big up and down. Because the ups are amazing. If you win an event, you've things going successfully, it's brilliant. But then when it all comes crashing down, it all comes crashing down one and everything goes."
"The sport makes you really really appreciate the good time because when they're good, they're good; when they're bad, they're bad," he says. "So it teaches you to have a good perspective of life, and not get too down when it goes bad, because it goes bad quite a lot, a lot of the time."
It is true that the game takes years of experience and training to get the precise control with the horses. By the time equestrians come out to greet the audience with top hats and tails with their horses, most of them are matured riders in their 40s. As one of the youngest rider at four star level (the top rank), Hua is by definition one of the best of his age. There is still has a long career ahead; plus, time is on his side.
"Obviously long term goal personally I can't imagine doing anything other than what I am doing at the moment. I just hope I am like Mark Todd who is like 50s still one of the best riders in the world and enjoying it. That's what I'd love to be."
"My eight Olympics down the road," he says with a wide grin on his face.