An­i­mal Lover

Meet the horse whis­perer from Shan­dong prov­ince

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By JUCHUANJIANG in Penglai, Shan­dong juchuanjiang@chi­nadaily.com.cn Zhao Ruixue and Gu Jing­wen contributed to this story.

Fan Ji­ayi never ex­pected that the pro­found feel­ings he had for a Bo­hai horse dur­ing his child­hood would lead him to a life­long ca­reer of rais­ing horses and quite pos­si­bly save the breed from ex­tinc­tion.

At the Hesh­eng horse farm in Daxin­dian, a vil­lage in Penglai, Shan­dong prov­ince, Fan, the farm’s owner, gen­tly strokes a horse and whis­pers to it.

Fan’s farm is China’s sole base for pre­serv­ing the Bo­hai horse, a fa­mous breed in China. The Bo­hai horse was de­vel­oped by in­ter­breed­ing Mon­go­lian horses and horses in­tro­duced from the for­mer Soviet Union dur­ing the 1950s and ’60s. The tall, well-pro­por­tioned and pow­er­ful yet gen­tle horses are found mainly in the north­east­ern part of Shan­dong prov­ince and the south shore of Bo­hai Bay.

The breed was used to pull carts and as pack­horses in wars. But as mech­a­nized agri­cul­ture grew more wide­spread in re­cent years, the num­ber of Bo­hai horses fell sharply from its peak in the 1980s of more than 80,000.

Han Guo­cai, deputy di­rec­tor of the Horse Re­search Cen­ter at China Agri­cul­tural Univer­sity in Bei­jing, said the num­ber of Bo­hai horses had fallen to only 200 in 2007. To­day, they are es­ti­mated to num­ber about 1,000.

On Fan’s farm alone, there are more than 200 adult Bo­hais, about half of them mares. Fan ex­pects the herd could grow to about 500 in five years.

Fan, who is cred­ited as the breed’s sav­ior, said his de­ter­mi­na­tion to res­cue them from ex­tinc­tion grew out of an ac­ci­den­tal en­counter with horses.

In March 2007, Fan saw by chance that some horses, sev­eral of them Bo­hais, were about to be killed at a slaugh­ter­house in Wudi county, Shan­dong. Among them was a tough, pow­er­ful horse al­most ex­actly like the one he had as a child.

The horse stirred an emo­tion buried deep in his heart.

“I had played with horses since I was 7 years old. Some­times when I fell from a horse, it would stop and wait for me to climb on its back again. Horses can’t speak, but they are friendly to peo­ple and they’re very de­pen­dent. Each time I see horse killed, it is as if a knife has been plunged into my heart,” he said.

“I thought, Why don’t I take these good horses to my home town? Then I can pro­tect this breed and en­rich tourism at­trac­tions inmy home­town.”

Fan bought the horses and took them home.

He went across Shan­dong to look for Bo­hai horses and fi­nally found more than 30 Bo­hais for his farm.

Ma Ling, Fan’s wife, has a notebook keep­ing track of what Fan has spent on horses over the years. In all, over the past nine years he has spent more than 200 mil­lion yuan ($30 mil­lion) on the farm. Ma said she even con­sid­ered di­vorc­ing him, be­cause her hus­band de­voted all his ef­forts to Bo­hai horses, not their fam­ily.

“But I can’t let the fa­mous Bo­hai horses die out,” Fan said.

Af­ter years of devel­op­ment, Fan’s horse farm now cov­ers more than 30 hectares and has sta­bles, in­door and out­door train­ing grounds, shower rooms and a horse breed­ing cen­ter.

He in­vited the ex­perts from Bei­jing to breed Bo­hai horses, as his farm is the only con­ser­va­tion base for the Bo­hai horse.

Mean­while, he planned to breed Bo­hai warm blood horses. “Cross­breed­ing the Bo­hai horse with Ger­man warm bloods, we can breed the best warm blood of China within five to 10 years,” he said.

At present, China has no warm­blood horse breeds of its own.

De­scended from both hot bloods — known for their speed and en­durance — and cold bloods — bet­ter suited to slow, heavy work — Bo­hai horses present many char­ac­ter­is­tics of warm bloods with­out ac­tu­ally fall­ing into the cat­e­gory.

“Although Bo­hai horses are big and have good phys­i­cal strength, they are pon­der­ous, so pure Bo­hai horses are not suited to com­pet­ing in races,” Fan said.

On Fan’s farm, some 40 Bo­hai warm bloods can be born each year. Through six years’ train­ing, these Bo­hai warm bloods will be able to par­tic­i­pate in do­mes­tic eques­trian sports events, he said.

“Cur­rently, horse clubs im­port warm bloods for in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion sat a high price. In five to 10 years, wewill have do­mes­tic warm-blooded horses that are suited to rac­ing, sub­stan­tially re­duc­ing the price of race­horses,” he said.

Fan re­al­izes that he needs to make money to sup­port his dream of pro­tect­ing the Bo­hai horse and cul­ti­vat­ing Bo­hai warm bloods.

He im­ported more than a dozen pure­bred, or pedi­gree, horses from Ger­many, Spain and the Mid­dle East, and then used Bo­hai horses as sur­ro­gates moth­ers to give birth to pure­bred warm­bloods through em­bryo trans­fers. The farm can breed some 20 pure­breds a year, some of which are sold.

He also opened an eques­trian school and in­door venues for tourists to watch eques­trian per­for­mances and ex­pe­ri­ence horse­back rid­ing. Thanks to co­op­er­a­tion with lo­cal tourism agen­cies, tourists have brought in­come to his farm.

Now, a 40-hectare fa­cil­ity to dis­play fa­mous horse breeds to tourists is un­der con­struc­tion, and a 200-km race­course built to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards will be ready for world­class en­durance races next year, he said.

“Money is poured into this horse farm ev­ery day, and it might take one or two decades to see prof­its. But I won’t give up on Bo­hai horses in this life. I’ll help the breed to con­tinue for gen­er­a­tions,” he said.

PHO­TOS BY JU CHUANJIANG / CHINA DAILY

A keeper dis­plays an adult Bo­hai horse and its foal at the Hesh­eng horse farm in Penglai, Shan­dong prov­ince.

Fan Ji­ayi with a Ger­man warm blood at his farm. He plans to cross­breed the Bo­hai horse with Ger­man warm bloods.

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