Blog Image



Few people appreciate that China invented the stirrup. Much of the country’s traditions of horsemanship have died out since the days of the Tang Dynasty, thousands of years ago, when Chinese cavalries were the best in the world. Today there’s a resurgence of interest, as equestrian clubs open in major cities. I’ve been a member of Equuleus in Beijing for the past four years. Instructors at clubs like Equuleus give lessons to wealthy Chinese and expats and at the weekend compete in national showjumping teams. But the real horsemen are to be found in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, where minority Mongols and Uyghur peoples produce some of the best riders and horses I’ve seen.

China’s equestrian tourists

Horses in China Posted on Thu, March 21, 2013 09:50:17

China’s nouveau riche have money and like to flaunt it overseas – and that ever-interesting font of Chinese equestrian knowledge,, seems to have found a handy niche for itself in taking the horsey set overseas.

A week in Portugal costs over EUR3,000 (RMB26,000 -flights not included) while eight days learning ‘natural horsemanship’ in Hungary costs RMB30,000.

Such trips might be good value given the astronomical costs of riding -and variable quality of trainers – in Beijing equestrian clubs. The trip to Portugal is advertised as a week of wine and villas, as well as ‘rare and expensive pure blooded Lusitano horses’. And this way China’s elite gets to spend its money discreetly: China’s new government is perpetuating a ‘frugality’ campaign in the face of increasing corruption here.

China’s Diamond Horseboys

Horses in China Posted on Thu, December 06, 2012 10:49:15

They’re the pin up boys modeling the convergence of equestrianism and bling in China. There’s Li Hou Lin, boss of the Hiersun diamond franchise in China: in local celebrity magazines he gushes about the manly nature of horseriding and his exploits aboard his own imported steeds, one of which he’s named…Hiersun.

Hong Kong actor Aaron Kwok (who makes a lot of his money on the mainland) meanwhile is the China face of Longines in China and posed with horses and horse mannequins at the Longines-sponsored show-jumping event in Beijing’s national stadium this year, while the slightly lower-league actor Li Yun regularly poses with horses for Cartier, which uses polo to sell its bling in China.

Mick Kinnane Praises Wuhan Racing

Horses in China Posted on Mon, November 26, 2012 14:27:58

I’ve been reading a fascinating article from the local media in Wuhan on the racing festival (the tenth annual such festival) there last month: attended by ‘Ireland’s most famous horse racing master’ Mick Kinnane, who the newspaper quotes as lavishing praise on the racing set up in this central-Chinese city which has long hoped to get permission to conduct on-track gambling. Kinnane said he was “very surprised” by the quality of the track and the horsemanship, and reckoned the local body size makes Wuhan natives ideal jockeys.

More interesting though are the details of the sponsors and the racers. Five races were sponsored by, among others, the Wujiashan Economic and Technological Development Zone Cup and the Earl Golf Club, both local establishments. The horses – “all thoroughbreds” points out the newspaper – came from Tianjin (the coastal city just east of Beijing) as well as Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia province.

“Famous jockey Siriguleng won the gold medal in 1 minute 02 seconds 56 while the Wuhan team of jockey Chen Wei took a silver medal,” according to the news report. Honours in a 1.5 and 5 mile races went to Wenliang Sheng of of Inner Mongolia Ewenke Horse Industry Association and Hohhot Liu Yi respectively – both from the same province of Inner Mongolia.

Ultimately the horses appear to come from city governments and the prizes are medals for the jockeys – there’s no mention in the article of prize money going to owners or breeders. Rich from coal mining, and one of the few regions with a tradition of horsemanship, Inner Mongolia appears to be out in front in the horseracing/breeding stakes. No sign of any legalisation of on-track gambling any time soon though.

Xi’an Cowboy: Ren Ying Ming

Horses in China Posted on Thu, November 08, 2012 03:37:58

In Xi’an in early November I had some trouble finding contacts or websites for any local equestrian establishments – several of the phone numbers I found were out of service – but eventually found a mobile number for Ren Ying Ming, the owner-manager of the Xi’an Sunshine Equestrian Club. And so early on a Sunday morning I hired a taxi to take me one hour’s drive outside the city proper to the mountain/parkland area where the city’s zoo is also located.

Mr Ren very helpfully drove to meet us and guide us to his club, which is probably the best located of any I’ve seen in China. While small in scale the Sunnytime (Yangguang Ma Shu to use the Chinese name) is at the foot of the Qin Ling mountain range which divides Northern and Southern China.

Ren keeps 20 well-cared-for horses – (all local breeds) – and aside from a small outdoors arena and a corral he has the use of a piece of land next door, at the foothills of the majestic Qin Ling.

A 46 year old former IT worker, Ren rides English and Western style. He purchased some of his horses locally for an average EUR1,000 but spent EUR4,000 on a six year old gelding (mixed breeding, perhaps part Yili) shipped down from a polo club in Beijing.

There’s alas no website for the Yanguang/Sunnytime but Ren says he’s getting increasing interest from local parents taking their kids here for lessons.

The local daily newspaper ran a page-long story on Ren (scant on details but lots of dreamy references to horse-human bonding, as I’ve come to expect from local reporting on this subject) which you can read here.

Racing: Economist, Irish Times talk up China racing

Horses in China Posted on Sun, October 21, 2012 12:56:12

A recent piece in the Irish Times on Sino-Irish equine links could’ve been an advertorial for the country’s horse bodies. The report on the Irish participation at the autumn HORFA trade show in Shanghai was clearly helped with information from an earlier China Daily story. But it did helpfully point out the presence in Shanghai of Prof Ann Cullinane of the Irish Equine Centre, the laboratory responsible for the diagnosis and control of equine disease in Ireland. According to the Irish Times:

“Cullinane has been designated expert in the field of equine influenza, one of only four in the world, by the World Organisation For Animal Health (OIE), which is the veterinary equivalent of the WHO. Her lab has been twinned by the OIE with the National Veterinary Institute of China in Harbin. “The aim of the OIE-funded twinning is to transfer sufficient expertise from the Irish Equine Centre to Harbin Veterinary Institute to enable the Chinese laboratory to become the first OIE reference laboratory for equine influenza in Asia,” she said. The cooperation with Harbin, predicted Cullinane, will be a platform for transfer of other Irish equine know-how to China. Hopefully.

The Economist article meanwhile gives credence to the fanciful Tianjin Equine Culture City, which at an estimated cost of $2 billion will have two racetracks and be home to 3,000 horses. “Racing is due to start in 2014, the Year of the Horse,” says the magazine, noting “Chinese delegations have this year visited breeders and trainers in Ireland to buy horses, and made similar trips to Canada and France to sound out expertise. Irish racing’s governing body employs a full-time representative in Beijing. Darley has started an equine training school for Chinese university graduates…”

PE Cash for Chinese Horse Breeder

Horses in China Posted on Sun, October 21, 2012 12:22:01

In late August we had private equity firm SMC Capital China, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Simon Murray Group, sign a US$19 million joint venture (Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Industry Co Ltd) with Khorchin Rider Horse Co Ltd – which claims to be the biggest privately owned breeder of horses here – to develop a firm that’ll be a world leader. How will that impact the plans of firms like Darley and Coolmore, which plan to import horses? SMC put up half the capital because it reckons equestrianism is a ‘sunrise industry’ set to grow alongside golf and wine. SMC puts a $1 billion worth on the horse sector and says it’s growing at 20% a year. The China Daily quotes Hamilton Ty Tang, managing director of Simon Murray Co Ltd, as saying the number of equestrian clubs increased from less than 100 in 2007 to between 700 and 800 nowadays. Breeding, feed and setting up riding clubs are what Khorchin is about: that’s according to Lang Lin, founder and chairman of Khorchin Rider Horse, which was established in 2006. Lang says he gets the bulk of revenue and profits from breeding and, fascinatingly, says he can breed and feed at a fraction of the cost of competitors. “For example, the monthly cost for keeping a horse can be between 4,000 yuan and 5,000 yuan in Shanghai, while at Rider, it falls to 1,000 yuan,” Lang said, adding that the location of the company, the local government’s support and their management techniques make this possible. He expects sales of horses to double in 2012.

This is the second equestrian feature in as many months by the China Daily, which likes to write about horses like they’re Gucci handbags or Ferraris. Consumption, consumption. “China is desperately short of experienced horse trainers,” according to the China Daily, in another breathless piece on China’s demand for horses. Curiously the paper doesn’t mention the shortage of veterinarians. The paper rather quotes newly arrived Tyrel Hotchkiss a 26-year-old US cowboy and horse breaker as an example of a wave of foreign trainers apparently headed here. Funny, I’ve not seen too many of them – but a club with no less than 15 imported trainers for 100 foreign horses is Bangcheng Equestrian Club in Ordos – a coal boom town in the middle of Inner Mongolia. It claims to have spent 20 million yuan ($3.1 million) to buy 68 quarterhorses from the US this year.

Li Yanyang, editor-in-chief of the Chinese publication Equestrian Magazine, said the countrywill need many trainers from overseas in the next five to 10 years to meet demand. “Although a comprehensive and high-quality equestrian infrastructure is in place, China’semerging professional horse industry has a severe shortage of equestrian professionals,particularly high-level trainers,” Li said.

According to Li China’s equestrian clubs have sourced an average of more than 1,000horses each year from overseas breeders, of which most are expensive, sturdy horses fromGermany, France and the Netherlands,” Li said, adding that the number is projected toincrease substantially over the coming years. “But the problem is when those horses have arrived in China after what can be a series ofcumbersome procedures, very few experienced Chinese domestic trainers are able to trainthem.

Li says China will be the world’s largest importer ofhorses by 2022, although at present the country has fewer than 800,000 professional and amateurriders.

Racing in Yantai: Qinhuang Jockey Club

Horses in China Posted on Wed, October 03, 2012 03:39:38

Horse Welfare Issues in Shanghai

Horses in China Posted on Thu, September 20, 2012 10:24:50

I was very disappointed in Shanghai recently to visit a well-advertised equestrian centre, the Hui Hang Horse club.

It’s certainly large, with a golf cart to ferry drop-in clients between stables and a sprawling restaurant complex.

But the majority of the 70 or so (mostly local breed) horses I saw have no bed to lie on. Yes, concrete floors only. I found the manager upstairs in a spacious office hung with portraits of Mao and other nationalist icons. Clearly a military buff, and dressed as a colonel of sorts, the boss was full of welcome but then had to take an urgent phone call when I told him that there’s plenty of saw mills in the Shanghai/Yangtze Delta region which would give him a good few bags of saw dust for the same price the Hui Hang charges for a lesson – an average RMB300 for a 45 minute ride.

The effects of lying on bare, cold concrete already appeared obvious in the limbs of some of the Hui Hang horses I saw.

A live-in, week long, course for teenagers at the Hui Hang promises to turn them into ‘knights’ with elegant, noble bearing and upright posture.

Local media in China’s cities tend to glamourise this approach equestrianism: I wish they’d write more about the horses’ living conditions.

« PreviousNext »