Tag Archive for: memories

Time. This human social construct that helps us to navigate our existence. So elusive, yet constant. An ever-present reminder that life goes on even when it feels like you’re standing still. I feel like I’ve traveled back in time, to memories I thought I’d lost, but my senses tell me they’re very much alive and present in me. The noise, the smells, the heat and humidity, and the distinctive rhythm of life in a crowded city, set against the background staccato language of my childhood. The moment I landed in Hong Kong, I knew with all of my being that I was “home”. Not my home, the place that I call home, but the place which birthed me and still lays claim to a part of my being. The “home” where I should belong and the home where I have often felt I least belong.

It’s been 10 years since I last visited my birthplace. In some ways, that time has flown by, and in other ways, it feels like an eternity. I recognize how much I’ve changed and how I’m much less entangled in the insecurities I carried with me on previous trips. I noticed that I was walking through the crowds with more certainty in myself and felt less self-conscious about my now, less-than-fluent Cantonese in conversations. While this trip was family-focused, I did manage to sneak in some horse time, which offered me profound confirmation of the healing available in the presence of horses.

Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997 when it was returned to China under a 100 year lease agreement. I was there on July 1st, 1997 on Handover Day as the British flag was lowered and the Chinese flag raised. Never had I more acutely felt my inner cultural dissonance when witnessing the Chinese in the room cheer and celebrate as the English ex-pats cried, recognizing then that I inhabited both worlds. Colonialism and independence from it have always been part of my lived experience, shaping both my ways of being with humans and animals.

On this trip, I had the opportunity to visit the equestrian center at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. This facility is for lessons, boarding, and training of non-racing horses, separate from the racetrack facilities. I was given a tour of the center, which boasted an enormous covered arena and multiple outdoor arenas catering to all English disciplines (not a Western saddle in sight in the tack room), clearly a legacy from British rule. The facility manager took pride in showing me the 250 stall barn, built on a hillside to accommodate a basement level row of stalls with windows, and the turnout pastures available to the horses. The resident farrier showed me the rows of custom shoes for the horses, the resident saddler explained how he was trying to find the perfect fit for a young horse, and the resident veterinarian gave me a quick peek at the state of the art minor surgery suite on site. I watched the resident equine bodyworker and chiropractor at work. The barn care team explained that feeding occurs 5 times a day, and every horse is groomed, and/or exercised, and turned out every day, and while the horses are in their stalls, poop is scooped immediately upon deposit into a designated bin for each horse so that in the event of any health concerns, they have easy access to fecal samples. The staff all clearly prided themselves on quality care and service of the horses. From stable hands to grooms, to instructors, and equine health practitioners, these horses seemingly have all their needs met, and more. Most of the horses are OTTBs with a few warmbloods and Welsh cross ponies in the mix that are part of the riding school program.

I was in awe as we walked through the facility. Yes, I was impressed by the facility itself, albeit that it only caters to the elite of Hong Kong society given the expense of horse ownership and participation in equestrian sports in Hong Kong. Yes, I was glad to see how well the horses were taken care of and the holistic practices that were part of their daily routine (as well as can be accommodated within the confines of a concrete jungle). And yes, it was great to see so many retired racehorses being loved and cared for. While the remnants of colonial influence were clearly present through the adoption of British Horse Society standards, I also saw evidence of the integration of indigenous practices: acupuncture, pressure point release, herbal remedies based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Chi Gung were all being utilized. But none of this impacted me as much as the realization that this was the first time I had ever been in the presence of so many Chinese horse people! Despite my less than fluent Cantonese, despite my “coming back from overseas” and no longer being a Hong Kong local, and despite my never having had a conversation in Chinese about horses, I felt seen and heard and a sense of belonging. I am not an anomaly here.

As we walked through the barn, a dark bay OTTB stuck his head over his stall door. I paused as he reached out his neck to sniff my head. I scratched him under his chin and he lifted his head and took another step towards me, then lowered his big head behind my shoulder and pulled me into him. I reached up with both arms to scratch him on either side of his neck and stuck my nose into his chest and took a big sniff. “你回来了”, said the facility manager, “Welcome home”.

“Win Win Charity” declared the stall plaque: Foaled 2018. Retired 2023. 12 races. $0 Prize Money.

I think he’s worth his weight in gold.

Veronica
Executive Director