Alex Hua Tian really is one in a billion. Having won a Silver Medal for China at the 2014 Asian Games, he is the youngest eventer ever to compete at an Olympics as well as being China’s first equestrian Olympian in history.
This charming Old Etonian is a young man who has proved to be an outstanding ambassador for his nation and his sport. He, alone, represents China at iconic events held in stunning venues throughout Europe including Fontainebleau, Badminton, Burghley, Saumur, Blenheim and Chatsworth.
In 2014, Alex qualified for three major championships: he was the only Asian event rider at the World Equestrian Games finishing 49th, in Normandy; he won a Silver medal at the Asian Games in Korea; and placed 8th in the World Young Horse Championships in France. His next goal is the Rio Olympics 2016. Alex has been particularly active during 2014, the Year of the Horse, welcoming many of his successful compatriots to the UK and introducing them to the pleasures of the equestrian world. Equestrian sports are the fastest growing activities among China’s increasingly affluent classes and will continue to expand.
We caught up with Alex to see how his preparations are going for the 2015 season in the run up to Chinese New Year.
I have got 3 top horses and haven’t had that many for a few years. HARBOUR PILOT C, is 16 and went to World Games last year and is the backbone for my Olympic qualification this year. He is owned Edwina Qu Ye. A young contender at the 7 year old Championships last year is DON GENIRO, who is owned by Pip Higgins and Pam Dews, and is a really exciting prospect. I’m setting up him for 3* this year and have high expectations. And my third top horse is USTINOV VAN ELSENHAM, owned by Cilla Fagestrom. These are the three horses we are campaigning to take to the Olympics.
Behind these three, I have a host of other exciting horses and will be competing 10-12 this year.
This year is quite an interesting year for me. Unlike other eventers, my life is on a 4 year turnaround around the Olympics. British eventers have a calendar of events throughout the season and the Olympics to aim for. For me, in terms of interest in China, and the funding behind it, the aim is most definitely Rio. This coming year, the season starts in March with Olympic qualifications for next year. Essentially I will be competing at lots of far-flung places. I normally go to Badminton, Burghley and Blenheim but being the Olympic qualifying year, I will be competing at Barocca in Portugal, Bialy Bor in Poland, which I went to in 2008, and lots of really obscure places, which the established UK eventing world don’t come across, but as an individual I can take the horses and owners to new places that they haven’t been to before.
In 2010 the FEI ran a photo campaign called ‘Inspire’ and it was on display at the 2010 Kentucky World Championships. At that time, I had just done my first Badminton aged 20 and Mark Todd was there commemorating 30 years since his first Badminton, which he won on his debut. We did a photo shoot together at Badminton on one of the trees. From there we have done a few things for the FEI. This time, it is same sort of theme: the Olympic champion and the new young hopeful. We only filmed it in September.
We are the most disorganised family in the world and as yet, still haven’t finalized our plans but we will be celebrating. We normally have a quiet family meal, usually at the China Garden restaurant on Finchley Road.
Presentation is so important and a very focal part of any event, wherever you are in the world. For the World Championships, I wore a beautiful 3 piece suit from Gieves that was designed by Jason Basmajian, Creative Director, and I loved it. I will be heading to Savile Row soon to discuss looks for this year and have a measuring session, which is always great fun. My role with them came about as I am an Ambassador for Visit Britain and there is a great association between the brand and my role. Also my father has been a Gieves & Hawkes client for many years so it was a great natural fit.
My father is Chinese and my mother is British. I was born in China and Mum had horses out there. My maternal Grandfather point to pointed and I had the usual horsey upbringing just in China. Whilst I was at Eton, I kept my horses with Lucinda Fredericks as my mother kept her horses there and I trained there during school. I took a year out after AS levels to ride at the Beijing Olympics, which was incredible on home soil. When it was over, I went back to school to do my A Levels. I was supposed to go to Bristol University to read Engineering and a week before I was due to go, I had a very uncomfortable chat with my parents about pursuing my riding. I would never have forgiven myself for not giving it a go.
I think because of my background of getting to the top level with massive funding and riding at my home Olympics, having had that and then not to have it and do it myself, my inspiration comes from the eventers and any sports men and women who have got to the top through sheer hard work and stayed there. Those who have been superstars for 20 to 30 years: the drive, motivation and charisma that it takes to do that is my inspiration.
It was probably my lorry that I had when I had funding. It was before eventing had bling lorries, and I had a bling lorry! I was 17 or 18 and it was an amazing Lehel lorry. It was beautiful, in red and black livery for China and pop outs everywhere! It even had a dishwasher and a Nintendo Wii! Everything that a 17 year old could need. Plus it carried horses! It went after Beijing as I couldn’t justify keeping it.
Badminton stables are very special: the history, heritage and atmosphere is amazing when you are competing. I am very fond of where we are now as it is absolutely perfect for us. We are based at Pinfold Stables, outside of Manchester, near Knutsford, good footballer country. I was based near Amersham at Shardloes, and my girlfriend, dressage rider Sarah Higgins, was based near Chester. We wanted to find a place to run a business together and this yard came up and ticked almost all the boxes. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. Since being here, both Sarah and I have had a really good year.
There’s a yard near Newbury, Hedley Stud, which is a super stunning yard and you don’t see very many of them like that in the UK. There are lots on the continent and the Germans know how to do it big.
At the moment it is definitely the UK and I think these things go in stages. Being No. 1 in show jumping, dressage and eventing is down to one reason: the drive and the enthusiasm of the British riders and it is something that I spend a lot of time explaining to people back at home in China about what it means to grow up with horses, what it means to live a horsey lifestyle. It hasn’t embedded in in China yet. In Germany, they do things amazingly, but you can’t help feel it is a bit of a factory and not part of the heart and soul unlike here.
That’s a very grown up question! To feel that I have done as much as I can to broaden the horizons of the sport in China would be a legacy I would be proud of. I think eventing could be huge in China as affluence grows. Horse riding is the fastest growing and the third largest pursuit amongst the wealthy elite. It is an impressive figure when it is not a traditional pursuit there. At the moment everything is advertised using a horse. China could be massively beneficial to eventing as well: the sport, the sponsors, the readership and viewership.
Not purely one person – but it is the riders like Sir Mark Todd, Lucinda Fredericks, William Fox-Pitt and Andrew Nicholson that year in year out are winning the 4*s and going to the Olympics. They have 30 horses in their stables. The drive and the motivation to do that is extraordinary. There isn’t one over the other – they are collectively an inspiration.
For me it is talent and character. For what I want to do, and what I am interested in, the horse has to be going somewhere and it has to have a goal whether a 4* or the Olympics. It has to be interesting and have talent. Horses are like people : talent goes hand in hand with character. I don’t like boring horses; quirkiness and being a bit difficult are character building.
Probably an F1 driver! I would love that! In many ways, I use F1 as an analogy for our sport, not the car and driver being a parallel to the horse and rider but the huge team behind it all. Teamwork, the lifestyle, competing at top events, it is all consuming. I am a little bit of a speed junkie and Sarah always tell me I drive too fast!
Probably one thing I think before going cross country is something that Clayton Fredericks said a few years ago, which was to keep an open mind and don’t have fixed ideas; don’t decide to do it that one way, the moment you fix on something, it will go wrong. You must react to what is going on underneath you.
Something people that know me do know is that I am really bad in the morning! I am bad at waking up, bad at getting out out bed and until 10am it is a struggle. I don’t drink coffee but it has been the same all my life. I get up at the last possible minute, especially on competition days.
There is lots of debate on social media about prize money, entry fees, and the finances, but I don’t think we can give organisers a hard time about any of this. They do an amazing job. It all comes down to one thing. The sport is really bad at marketing itself. No other sport gets to compete in such amazing estates such as Blenheim and Badminton. How we cannot be on the same level or at least a peg down as other major sports remains a mystery. These amazing venues need to be taken advantage of. I am Chinese and can see this from the outside and find it utterly tragic when the sport should be so easy to market. Look at the showjumping world with big brands like Gucci and Longines and many others investing heavily in the sport and we are so much more thrilling and visual than showjumping! We need to make more of corporate hospitality– look at racing and polo – it is all perfectly possible.
I think my superstition is I don’t have any! But I do eat food as I can’t do anything on an empty stomach!
– My Prestige saddle
– My Cushion Track surface from Equestrian Surfaces
– My bespoke Gieves & Hawkes riding jackets
Against The Clock…
Dick Francis or Jilly Cooper? Never read Jilly Cooper so Dick Francis
Royal Ascot or Cheltenham Festival? Cheltenham
Badminton or Burghley? Tricky! Badminton for the competition but Burghley for everything else
Sand or Snow? I have never been skiing but always wanted to go so snow
Tea or G&T? G&T
Bay or grey? Doesn’t matter to me.
Keep up to date with Alex’s Olympic campaign and competition news on Facebook
Alex is also a Patron of World Horse Welfare
© Matthew Seed – The Horse Photographer www.horse-photographer.co.uk