Hong Kong Olympian Samantha Lam is one of those precocious talents whom age has not dimmed. Canadians in the show jumping scene in the 1990s will remember the perky teenager who was twice Spruce Meadows’ Junior of the Year. They might also recall that at 16 she was named first reserve for the Canadian Olympic squad in Atlanta and in 1997, at the age of 18, she competed in the Volvo World Cup Final in Gothenburg – the youngest woman ever to take part in the Finals.
Followers of the sport may, however, be forgiven for not knowing what happened next, for Lam uprooted in 1998 and moved from Vancouver to Germany. During her spell at the epicenter of the equestrian industry she honed her skills with the Holsteiner Studbook before going on to manage a number of large private stables. In 2006 she moved to Belgium, where she is currently based, developing horses and riders for all levels of competition.
Samantha chose to adopt her parents’ nationality in order to ride for Hong Kong in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Four years ago, she helped to secure Hong Kong’s first equestrian medal – team bronze – at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.
After wedding her long-time beau Chris de La Vallée Poussin and taking a short “baby break” following the birth of their son Daniel in December of 2012, Samantha returned to the international arena and now has her sights set on September’s Incheon Asian Games in Korea.
Life must be pretty hectic being an international show jumper, wife, and mother. How do you fit it all in?
Having a baby has changed life a lot. It’s not just about the horses and myself any more. Learning to juggle being a mother, rider, and wife is a lot more challenging than it is in theory. Thank goodness for my mom, Sara; she travels to all the shows with me and helps with Daniel while I ride and compete.
My husband, Chris, is currently living and working in Vancouver for a metals exploration company. My horses are based in Belgium [Chris is Belgian], creating a rather difficult logistical situation. We try to see each other when we can, which isn’t as often as we’d like. We have a rather two-dimensional relationship, as we see each other mostly on FaceTime and Skype. Chris is very understanding and supports my career, but of course we are working toward a more permanent solution.
How did you get started with horses, and how did you end up moving from Canada to Europe? It’s a big deal to move continents.
I started riding in Vancouver when I was seven. My dad, Soloman, rode as a young child in Hong Kong and then later at boarding school in the UK and he got me into it. I remember going to watch the international horse show in Stuttgart in 1990 and that made a huge impression on me. After that, I was determined to find a way to ride in Europe. I wanted to learn from the best.
So, in 1998 I moved over to Germany without knowing the language or very many people. As I didn’t have the finances to continue in the big leagues, I got a job as a rider in the Holstein area. I did everything from mucking boxes to handling young stock and stallions. I really learned a lot. I lived there for eight years before moving to Belgium, where I have lived for the last eight years.
Whose idea was it to put a Hong Kong team together for the 2008 Olympics, and what was your involvement? What is the status of the team now?
Since mainland China could not host the equestrian events owing to their quarantine rules and regulations, Hong Kong became host for the equestrian events. As co-host, Hong Kong got a spot for a team.
I had previously represented Canada – both my parents are HK Chinese and emigrated to Vancouver – but opted to change nationalities with the hope of representing Hong Kong at the 2008 Games. We were a very new team and the experience of participating in the Olympics was a very steep learning curve.
Since the Olympics, a few new members who are successfully competing at grand prix level have joined the original riders. We remain a relatively young team and hope that with the continued support of the equestrian federation and Hong Kong Jockey Club we will continue to develop and bring more success to Hong Kong.
Recently you were appointed as an athlete role model for this year’s Youth Olympics in Nanjing. Exactly what does that entail?
It was totally unexpected and such an honour that they would think of me. I received a phone call from John Roche [FEI Director of Jumping] asking if I was available during the Youth Olympic Games and if I would consider being the Athlete Role Model for the equestrian sports. The athletes at the YOG will be able to interact and converse directly with role models both informally and formally during educational activities and workshops that will focus on skills development, leading healthy lifestyles, social responsibility and Olympic spirit.
Have you had a “horse of a lifetime” or are you still looking for the one?
My first grand prix horse, Manadi, has a special place in my heart. We learned and developed as a pair in competition and training. We had to sell him when I moved to Europe, but when my father heard he was retiring he moved heaven and earth to ensure that Manadi returned to us and spent his final years in a warm, comfortable field in Florida. Other horses have mattered greatly to my career, such as Tresor d’Opaline, but I am still looking for that one diamond in the rough that will take us to a new level of competition.
With so many amazing venues on the show scene, can you pick a favorite?
Of all the venues I’ve ridden at up to now, Spruce Meadows – especially the International Ring – has to be my favorite. I hope to be able to compete there again soon.
How would you describe your personality?
Let’s just say that if I were a horse, I would probably be a mare with a very strong character that would like to be treated with respect. Ask nicely and I will generally oblige, but try and force my hand and you may get a kick!
If there was one valuable life lesson you would share with your son Daniel, what would it be?
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do or achieve something. Stay true to your dreams and goals. Work hard for them. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!