By Sasha Christian/Red Sports

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Para-equestrian Maximillian Tan (second from right), 26, with Minister of State Teo Ser Luck (extreme right) and other Team Singapore athletes. (Photo courtesy of Singapore Sports Council)

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Sports Excellence (Spex) scholar, Maximillian Tan, 26, has been riding horses since he was 7 years old. Beginning as a form of physiotherapy at RDA (The Riding for the Disabled Association) to help with his muscle tone and balance, Max went on to compete in Equestrian at the 2012 London Paralympics.

Max is one of 66 athletes across 15 sports who have won the Spex scholarship. The Singapore government will spend about S$40 million over five years on this scheme.

At the Spex Scholarship Awards Ceremony earlier this month, Max gave an inspiring speech on behalf of all the recipients. After hearing his speech, I made it my mission to have an interview with him.

Sasha Christian: How did you get started in the sport and how old were you?
Max Tan: I was 7 years old when I started therapeutic horse riding. It began as a form of physiotherapy at the RDA (The Riding for the Disabled Association) to help with my muscle tone and balance.

At one point of time, you were doing both sailing and equestrian at the same time. What made you choose to focus solely on equestrian?
Max: Riding for me was therapy and ironically, I picked up sailing when my riding instructors’ husband suggested I try it. It was not long after that, that I started sailing competitively in both the single dinghy and 3-men class. I competed in world championships and other international competitions.

In 2006, RDA decided that I should try competing in para-dressage and thus, I visited Melbourne for my very first riding competition. I did well enough to gain the attention of the local and Australian riding community and soon I was competing frequently. It got to a point when I had to choose between riding and sailing. I chose riding as it had the added benefit for me in terms of the therapeutic values.

What about Equestrian do you love?
Max: The attire. Just kidding! Honestly, it had to be because of my partners, the horses. But as I started seriously riding and going to Europe for competitions, they were more attractions for me to the sports. We drive with our horses from cities and countries over much of Europe and see places off the beaten tracks which are usually super scenic and historic. The food adventure on our trips can best be describe as “Yum!”

What are some of your best achievements?
Max: Without a doubt the best life achievements for me would have to be representing Singapore at the 2012 London Paralympics!

Last year was a busy year for you, how did you cope with school and training for the Paralympics?
Max: I was in my final year in Chapman University. It was tough managing studies and preparing for the Paralympics at the same time. It almost got to a head whether I quit school or forego the 2012 Paralympics.

Thankfully, my lucky star was on my side. Working very closely with my very supportive school, we arranged for lectures and assignments online and changing the submissions date if needed and scheduling my examinations to coincide with my return. The national federation tries their best to schedule my training and competitions during the school breaks. With both their help, I was able to graduate and attend the Paralympics.

What is your training like?
Max: I train both locally and in Cologne, Germany. Back home in Singapore, I train only three times a week on a school horse at the National Equestrian Centre. I consider this maintenance riding to keep me in condition.

When we head out to our training base in Europe, we live on site, where the stables are located. There we have our own horses, the one we compete on. When we are in Germany, training is virtually the whole day and throughout the weeks or months we are there. We are literally in our riding gear from reveille to bedtime.

How long have you been training full-time for? What encouraged you to train full-time?
Max : It has always been school and training, just like most Singaporean student-athletes. However, during our preparations for the Paralympics, I would be in Germany for a month or two for training and competitions and then return to Singapore for a few weeks before heading back again. Our competition season is also during the spring and summer period. With such a training schedule, it has not been possible to secure a job other than riding full-time henceforth.

What does getting the SPEX Scholarship mean to you?
Max Tan: The scholarship would provide the needed funding for our competition and training trips. It will also come in handy with our horse livery expenses and equipment upgrades and replacements.

I was a beneficiary of some associations and I am looking to contributing back through the community engagement part of the scholarship. I am also looking forward to the life-skills training workshops planned as part of the scholarship program to catch up on interpersonal development.

Who have been your greatest pillars of strength?
Max Tan: My family and the many other people who have helped and encouraged me along the way.

I have been motivated by our support team who have to do all the hard and dirty part of the work and sometimes they seem unrecognized. Their perseverance spurred me on to work hard and to do well as my appreciation.

What are your goals and plans for the next few years?
Max Tan: Qualify for next year’s World Equestrian Games in France and the Rio2016 Paralympics. Through my sports I hope to encourage more disabled to come forth to challenge themselves.

What motivates you in your sport?
Max Tan: Doing well in the sport motivates me and likewise, when I don’t do well or reach my goal, it motivates me to find out where I go wrong and improve better in future. So you see, whichever way it goes, I am motivated.

Maximillian Tan Bio
Age: 26
Date of Birth: August 6, 1987
Schools attended:
Republic Polytechnic (Technology and Arts Management, Class of 2009)
ITE College Ang Mo Kio (Digital Media Design, Class of 2005)
Seng Kang Secondary
Major Sporting Achievements:
Qualifying for and competing at the 2012 London Paralympics