Lily Zilo Hopes to Be Hong Kong’s Olympic Dressage Rider

In an effort to ensure that the 2008 Olympic host nation is represented, the Hong Kong Jockey Club is putting up the money to help Chinese dressage and jumper riders prepare and qualify to compete in this summer’s Olympic Games and U.S.-based Chinese rider Lily Zilo is one of the riders benefitting from the Club’s financial support. Although, the Olympic Games are scheduled to be held in Beijing, China, the equestrian competitions for the Games will be held in Hong Kong. Hence, the interest of the Hong Kong Jockey Club in sponsorship.

Zilo has represented Hong Kong before in competition during the 2006 Asian Games. It was right after that event that Zilo begin thinking of the 2008 Olympics. "When the Games were over, the Chinese Federation spoke to all riders and told us that if we pursued on our own an interest in going to the Olympics that maybe we could represent Hong Kong," she said. As her Asian Games mount was only capable of Prix St. Georges and Intermediaire competition, Zilo went on the hunt for a Grand Prix horse. She also linked up with American Olympian Michelle Gibson as her trainer.

Zilo went horse shopping in Europe and last spring she found Stradivari 14, a 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding she purchased from Hubertus Schmidt. "He has three very good gaits and he knows his work and he has a very accepting mind.

He doesn’t insist, he always waits for what the instructions are. I rode, seven or eight other Grand Prix horses when I was looking for a horse and most of them made decisions on their own. They felt that they knew their job and that you should not be in charge, they should be in charge. But he actually has the patience and he waits," Zilo said of her new Grand Prix partner.

Zilo was born in Taipei. Her family later moved to Hong Kong, from where her mother is from. Zilo learned to ride while she and her husband, Alex, were living in Italy. "I was accompanying my older daughter to pony lessons and I got bored waiting around for her. So, I started taking group lessons in the stable where she was riding and a year later, I thought perhaps it was better to have my own horse. That’s how I got started. In Italy, they don’t have hunter classes. The lowest jump starts at 1 meter. And I quickly figured out that at the age of 37, I would never become a Grand Prix jumper. Dressage is more predictable. You know what you’re going into and how you should prepare your horse. And, I felt that if I gave it a try and did my best, perhaps one day I could be a Grand Prix dressage rider."

In 2001, the Zilos moved to the U.S. and chose the Wellington, Florida as their home because of their growing equestrian interest. To make it to this year’s Olympic Games, Zilo will need two qualifying scores of 64 percent at a CDI and those scores must come from an "O" judge. And, a judge not from her native country. "In the case of Hong Kong, it’s very easy since we don’t have any "O" judges," she said. The challenge for Zilo with her new horse, will be getting the qualifying scores, but she’s got some great support behind her.

Financial support is coming from the Hong Kong Jockey Club. "They’re also sponsoring the Olympic Show Jumping Team and right now, three dressage riders," Zilo said. "They allocate an amount and every three months, they send us some of that money that we can use for competition, training – anything related to the horse and rider. We determine how we want to spend the money and submit the expenses. Once it’s decided who actually is going to Hong Kong, then the Jockey Club will allocate another amount of money to cover the expenses of competing in the Olympics."

Hong Kong has only one dressage slot for the Olympic Games and getting it won’t be easy. But Gibson said her student is determined and works hard. "We’re making progress and coming along. So, we’re headed in the right direction and we’re going to give it every effort."

Zilo’s first attempt to earn her qualifying scores will come in late February when she competes at the Palm Beach Derby. Although she competed at the Gold Coast Opener CDI-W/Y, she did so not in CDI classes but open classes as a way to get experience before her first CDI qualifier. She’s optimistic. "As long as I do my best and keep trying and with the help of Michelle and if the horse stays sound, I think the goal is reachable."