FBW Chico, the horse Alex Hua Tian rode at the 2008 Olympics, has been put down, aged 19.
Zhao Ning’s grey by Carolus I spent his retirement in the field at Alex’s Cheshire yard, but had started to feel his arthritic fetlocks.
“It was a really tough decision, but we all knew it was the right time,” said the Chinese event rider.
Alex is the son of a Chinese father and British mother. He was propelled into the spotlight when a private individual decided to fund a campaign for him to ride at his home Olympics in 2008. He took a year out of Eton and embarked on a whirlwind campaign to buy experienced horses and qualify for the Games.
Chico started his career in Germany and Alex bought him in December 2007, just before the registration deadline for the Beijing Olympics (horses have to be in the ownership of the nationality for which they will compete at the Games by the end of the previous year).
“We bought him from an amateur as a back-up for the superstar horses we had bought beforehand,” said Alex. “Frankly, at the time he was an unlikely contender to go to Hong Kong. I remember thinking he wasn’t a great mover, was a bit skinny and held his tail too high.
“But once we saw him jump we knew he was a good horse and all I had to do was jump him once to know he was something special.”
“He definitely had a cheeky side to him. I remember our first dressage test at Barroca d’Alva 2008 in the CIC* earned us an unpromising 70.3. Clayton [Fredericks, Alex’s trainer at the time] decided we should crack on and do the CIC3* the following weekend and we bombed around with a 44 dressage to get half our qualification for Beijing.
“Throughout that summer it became increasingly obvious that he was the horse I got on with the best and I remember at Barbury CIC3* our final run before the Olympics we went into the cross-country in fourth place in most nations’ final trial.”
At 18, Alex became the first Chinese rider to contest the eventing at an Olympics, but after a good dressage test, he had a fall from Chico across country.
“Hitting the turf in Hong Kong was a really difficult thing to come to terms with, especially as Chico and I hadn’t made a mistake all year but the lessons I learnt and confidence he gave me was invaluable,” said Alex.
“In the years following the Olympics, we struggled to keep him on the road and made the difficult decision to retire him in 2010.
“Since then he has lived in various different fields with my other campaigners from that generation. He was completely feral at the end and used to run the girls ragged around the field trying to catch him to have his feet trimmed.
“He was a cool customer with an amusing combination of machismo and sense of humour. He was definitely the king of the yard or field.”