Starring : Jacqueline Lai - Masters Rider of the Longines Masters of Hong Kong 2016
20th January 2016 Hong Kong
Five years ago, Jacqueline Lai was lying in hospital with a shattered pelvis -- now, thanks to her courage, she is ready for her first chance to compete at the Longines Masters of Hong Kong.
Sometimes referred to as the “iron woman” because of the plates and pins in her body, today Jacqueline Lai’s nickname is better suited to describing her steely determination. Making a miraculous recovery after a training accident in 2011, she is now ready to take on the world’s best riders at the Longines Masters of Hong Kong. Now she’s eager to return home and have her first shot at competing in the Longines Masters, and as the Hong Kong Equestrian Federation’s selected rider, all eyes will be on her. “Landing in my home country, and doing my sport in front of a home crowd with my team is so exciting,” she says. “But I'm not getting carried away, I'm still here to perform!” If her competitors should remember anything, it’s not to underestimate Jacqueline Lai. 
1. When did you first become interested in show jumping?
I was on the waiting list to start riding for five years before my chance came along. First my Mum started, and later I joined her when I was ten. As soon as I could choose to learn show jumping, I did.
2. Can you tell me a bit about your history?
I was born in the US, but never lived there. I lived in Hong Kong until 2009, when I left for Europe. Hong Kong creates a good foundation for riders – it has a very good programme of taking horses off the track and re-schooling them. I was riding thoroughbreds the whole time I was here. I left because to move forward in show jumping you have to go abroad and learn how to ride warm-blooded horses.
3. How did you settle on Denmark as a destination? 
You have to be based in Europe if you want to go professional - the best trainers are there, and the industry’s very centralised. I chose Denmark because that’s where my trainer, John Byrialsen, is from. We really clicked from the beginning, and we’ve been working together for five or six years now. 
4. How have you been preparing for the Longines Masters?
I keep my horses fit all year round - I ride them as much as possible. To prepare Capone, who’s older with plenty of experience, we look at the timeline for the Longines Masters, and don’t make him work too hard beforehand. We have just done two competitions to get him in the right mentality. Basta, my other horse, has done the same shows. He doesn’t have as much experience as Capone at this level, so we keep him fit and work him a bit harder. I really am ready to take this opportunity – it’s huge for me. I’m really lucky to have two horses to take at this level, because Basta wouldn’t have been ready a year ago. 
5. How do you feel about your first chance to compete at the Longines Masters of Hong Kong? 
I’ve been trying to ride this show ever since it came to Hong Kong, and to do this in front of a home crowd will be huge. It comes with a lot of pressure and need for focus, but to be able to compete at this level with these riders is intimidating in a good way! Landing in my home country, and doing my sport in front of a home crowd with my team, is so exciting, but I'm not getting carried away, I'm still here to perform!
6. How did you feel when you were told you were the Hong Kong Equestrian Federation’s selected rider?
Very happy. I really feel that I have the right horse for the job - Capone. He’s played a big role in my career and he’s helped me grow up, and even though I’m able to ride other horses now, I’m always happy to ride him. 
7. What do you think about the future of show jumping in Hong Kong?
I think the Longines Masters is a great platform for Hong Kong spectators to see world level riders, and it will open their eyes. It’s still small here, but the event will make people more interested. It’s a sport that takes a lot of hard work and determination, and hopefully the spectators will see that the riders aren’t all young, they’re very experienced. 
8. How did it make you feel when you raised so much more than you intended using Fringe Backer in 2013? 
FringeBacker was an emotional experience. My family and I were overwhelmed by the support I got. I'll never be able to show enough gratitude to my backers, including quite a few who backed me anonymously. I hope those who are interested will get to attend the Longines Masters and see where I got to today with their help.
9. How does it feel to be here after overcoming the major hurdle of your injury in 2011?
The accident happened after I’d only been show jumping full-time for one year. It was when I was injured I realised how much it meant to me, and that was the drive. Anybody who's going through something like that has got to have some of the mad passion, naive arrogance and stubbornness that I had. 
Besides the moral support from my friends, family, teammates and colleagues, I really don't see how I would have made it back without the faith of my two biggest backers. The Hong Kong Jockey Club stood by me without pressure and financed my training and competition back into championship level, and my trainer, John Byrialsen, inspired me with his unyielding drive and eye for detail as he helped me rebuild my technique and physique. His way definitely wasn't without pressure!
10. What is your ultimate goal in show jumping? 
I definitely want to ride in the Olympics, but it’s not easy. The World Equestrian Games may be a bit more realistic. For the Olympics, we only have one competition to qualify, but the World Equestrian Games gives you longer. 
11. How do you wind down in between competitions?
I don’t really wind down – I like to keep my day full. In the evening it feels nice to relax in front of the TV for an hour or so. I don’t like to have too much time on my hands.