When Fleur Schrader got onto a horse for the first time at a Pokfulam riding club, aged just seven, she never could have predicted the path that lay ahead for her. Now 23, the Hong Kong-born, UK-based rider represented Hong Kong for the first time at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Paralympics, a Games like no other, due to the strict Covid-19 regulations, including minimal spectators.
The Games also got off to a stressful start for Hong Kong's equestrian delegation, who had to deal with the news that rider Timothy Tsang's horse, Cethegus M, was deemed lame by the team vet just days after arriving in Tokyo, leaving just Schrader and her teammate Natasha Tse Pui-ting to compete on the world stage. It also meant that Schrader, who was due to compete with Tse in the team dressage, would only be able to compete in the individual event.
Dressage is a form of horseriding that showcases the horse's agility and discipline through a series of predetermined movements performed from memory, such as trotting, extended gaits, pirouetting, and moving forward diagonally—all performed to music. Para-dressage is the only equestrian discipline included in the Paralympic Games, where it has been a regular fixture since 1996, and riders compete in mixed-gender competitions. Within the sport, athletes are delineated into sub-categories based on their level of impairment, ranging from grades one to five.
According to the International Paralympic Committee, "Grades I to III ride in the smaller dressage arena (20m x 40m) while grades IV and V ride in the larger (20m x 60m) one, which matches the one used in Olympic dressage. Para riders compete for two individual medals per grade and an overall team medal." Although Schrader missed out on a podium place in her category, Para-Equestrian Dressage Individual III, the experience of representing her home city on a world stage was unforgettable.
Here, Schrader reveals her road to the 2020 Paralympics, her routine during competition season, and what she's working towards post-Tokyo.
How did you get into horse-riding and what do you enjoy about it?
I was lucky enough to start with the Riding for Disabled Association in Pokfulam when I was seven years old. [Riding] gives me a sense of freedom, in a way that my body can’t necessarily give. Of course, there’s also the bond with the horse which is something very special.
Tell us about your road to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics: what did it take to get there?
It has been my goal for the last five years and I’m ecstatic that I got there. It took a lot of perseverance, dedication and compromise. I moved to England five years ago to be closer to the horses, and it was the best decision for my riding career.