Cover Schrader represented Hong Kong in the dressage event in Tokyo last summer

Get to know equestrian athlete Fleur Schrader as she reveals her remarkable road to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

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.

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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. 

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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.

How was it competing without spectators? Do you think it affected your performance? What was it like to represent Hong Kong for the first time?

The Olympics were truly one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had. I have no other Games (yet!) to compare it to, so I can’t comment too much on whether spectators made a difference. However, the lack of spectators worked for me as it was what I’m used to: there aren’t usually lots of people watching para-dressage. It was an honour to be able to represent Hong Kong, the place I grew up in and the place that will always hold a special place in my heart. 

What is it that made you focus on dressage above other equestrian disciplines?

It’s such a beautiful, elegant sport, and there’s so much to learn from a technical perspective. 

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Tell us about your horse, Caraat: what has your relationship been like, and how long have you been riding together?

Caraat is an absolute gem to partner with. I’ve only been working with her for just under a year now and every time I ride her I learn something new. She’s more experienced than me and that really helps to instill confidence into my riding. 

Where do you usually train and who do you train with?

Our horses are based in Surrey, England. I’ve been coached by Annie Ho, a Hong Kong elite rider, for the past three years and she’s done an incredible job of really helping me to understand myself and the horses. 

Read more: Meet The Athlete - Olympic Equestrian Thomas Heffernan Ho

In competition season, what does your daily routine look like?

In competition season, we normally have training camps where we train five to six times a week. When we’re off the horse, we meet with physios and sport psychologists to help us achieve the optimum mentality and physicality tailored for dressage.  

 

What are some common misconceptions that people have about both horse-riding and Para-sports as a whole?

I think a lot of non-riders think we just sit atop the horse and the horse does everything! The rider is always doing something to send signals and give aids to the horse. Regarding para-sports, although I think it’s improved a lot over the years just as we’ve progressed in society, there is still a remnant of the misconception that para-sports and athletes are not to the same elite standard as non para-sports. 

What could be done to raise the profile of Para-sports outside the Paralympics?

I genuinely think we’ve made such big strides over the years but there is always rooms for improvement. I think increased coverage of qualifier events and increased sponsorship of para sports and athletes would help massively. We are very lucky and thankful to have the Hong Kong Jockey Club behind us but I understand that not all countries and sports have this privilege. 

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How would you rate Hong Kong's provision for, and promotion of Para-athletes?

I can’t honestly comment on the scene of para-sports and athletes in Hong Kong as I don’t live there most of the time but I can say that I was extremely impressed by the media campaigns and promotions in Hong Kong leading up to the Paralympics. However, I can comment on accessibility in Hong Kong. Although I think we’ve made improvements over the years, I do believe there is still a way to go in travel accessibility for people who are disabled to allow them independence when going around Hong Kong. 

What are you working towards now?

I am working towards competing at the World Equestrian Games in Denmark next summer. Hopefully, by then, I will also have completed my BSc in Social Work from the University of Portsmouth. Beyond that, I have got my eye on competing at the Paris 2024 Games.

What are your favourite things to do when you're not riding?

I’m a binge-watcher! I love watching TV shows and movies. Currently, I’m working through all ten seasons of Hawaii-Five-0! Also, in the last 3 years or so, I’ve become very interested in politics, so I try to keep up with that when I can. Above all, I love food. I love trying new food but Japanese food is by far my favourite.


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