Meet the horse whisperer from Shandong province
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.
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.