The 'sta­ble' life

More Chi­nese par­ents sign their kids up for eques­trian classes to learn dis­ci­pline, love for an­i­mals and other soft skills

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By Wei Xi

While some of the Chi­nese born in the 1970s and 80s grew up learn­ing Western in­stru­ments, such as the pi­ano and vi­o­lin, nowa­days study­ing such in­stru­ments are much more com­mon­place among both adults and

chil­dren. An­other Western orig­i­nated skill, eques­trian sports or horse­back rid­ing, is the new trendy hobby.

“Even though they like an­i­mals, chil­dren who live in cities do not have a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties to be around an­i­mals, ex­cept for go­ing to the zoo,” said Sun Wenxin, who is the mother of a fiveyear-old girl and lives in Bei­jing.

Her daugh­ter, Doudou, started train­ing at a lo­cal eques­trian club about a year ago. But she is not the youngest be­gin­ner in her club. Quite a few of the chil­dren there started their horse­back rid­ing classes at just three years old.

A new hobby

Wang, a fa­ther of two boys, has reg­is­tered both of his sons for eques­trian classes. His el­dest son is six and joined the club three years ago. Now, his three-year-old sib­ling is fol­low­ing in his foot­steps.

“As kids, we learned in­stru­ments like the gui­tar. It was hard to find a horse back then,” Wang ex­plained.

He said, orig­i­nally, he was just look­ing for a sports class for his son but then thought he would give horse­back rid­ing a try.

“It turned out that my son en­joyed horse­back rid­ing a lot. So, we con­tin­ued,” he said. “What I care about the most is that through horse­back rid­ing, a child's willpower, ten­der­ness and strength can be cul­ti­vated.”

Wei Ningyuan is learn­ing horse­back rid­ing with her six-year-old daugh­ter. She chose horse­back rid­ing be­cause it is closer to na­ture, which is “bet­ter than in­door sports ac­tiv­i­ties.”

“It makes chil­dren more open,” she said.

Even though the Chi­nese started rais­ing and rid­ing horses for liv­ing and war pur­poses more than 2,000 years ago, it is very dif­fer­ent from the cur­rent trend, which orig­i­nated in Europe.

Eques­trian sports en­tered the Chi­nese main­land in the 1980s, but it was not un­til the last decade or so that the num­ber of learn­ers be­gan to rise sig­nif­i­cantly.

Ac­cord­ing to a China Sports Daily re­port in 2017, the num­ber of eques­trian clubs in China was less than 100 in the 1980s. But since 2008, both the num­ber of eques­trian clubs and horse­back rid­ing en­thu­si­asts saw a 100 per­cent an­nual in­crease, and as of 2017, the num­ber of eques­trian clubs in China stood at more than 1,400, the re­port said.

Chen Che, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Bei­jing Turf and Eques­trian As­so­ci­a­tion, ex­plained that while eques­trian train­ing on the Chi­nese main­land in the 1980s was mainly due to the govern­ment's de­sire to in­crease par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Olympics Games, re­cent years' de­vel­op­ment is more due to mar­ket de­mand.

One im­por­tant rea­son for the change in the num­ber of horse­back rid­ing en­thu­si­asts is the ris­ing dis­pos­able in­come of Chi­nese fam­i­lies. With a more sig­nif­i­cant dis­pos­able in­come, more peo­ple can af­ford to take horse­back rid­ing lessons and even com­pete lo­cally.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port in Ori­en­tal Outlook mag­a­zine, sta­tis­tics col­lected by the Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics of China show that in 1995, the av­er­age an­nual in­come per per­son was 5,500 yuan ($863.02). At that time, vi­o­lin or pi­ano class cost about 50 yuan per hour. The 2017 an­nual in­come sta­tis­tics from the bureau show each per­son earn­ing 61,578 yuan per an­num, which means there is a lot more money to af­ford horse­back rid­ing classes at between 300 yuan and 400 yuan per 45-minute class.

“I think that is ac­cept­able,” Sun told Met­ro­pol­i­tan. “Classes like English lan­guage train­ing can be as much as 200 yuan, and they are not one-on-one and do not in­clude an an­i­mal.”

Wei shares a sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment. “It is more ex­pen­sive than sim­i­lar classes in the US, but in Bei­jing, it is a rea­son­able cost,” Wei said.

Not an or­di­nary sport

Chen said an­other rea­son more peo­ple may be try­ing horse­back rid­ing has to do with the per­cep­tion that eques­trian sports were only for rich peo­ple or Euro­pean aris­to­crats. He said now that more Chi­nese fam­i­lies can af­ford the ac­tiv­ity, they want to ex­pe­ri­ence it.

How­ever, for him, the sports' abil­ity to teach rid­ers self-dis­ci­pline and a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for an­i­mals far out­weigh the need to sam­ple some­thing that was pre­vi­ously out of reach.

“In Europe and the US, it is com­pe­ti­tions that push the de­vel­op­ment of the eques­trian in­dus­try, but in China, it is cul­ti­vat­ing one's mind that at­tracts more and more peo­ple to the sport,” Chen said.

Dong Yanli, head coach at the Bei­jing-based Ipony In­ter­na­tional Youth Cava­liers Academy has a sim­i­lar opin­ion.

He said be­sides rid­ing cour­ses, sta­ble man­age­ment is also an im­por­tant as­pect of train­ing in China.

“It helps chil­dren learn to work with their hands and es­tab­lish a lov­ing feel­ing to­ward an­i­mals," Dong ex­plained.

“I like it a lot be­cause you get to be with an­i­mals and play with an­i­mals and get ex­er­cise,” said 11-year-old Bri­tish-Chi­nese Con­stance Hu, who has five classes three days a week.

Hu used to like the feel­ing of the wind blow­ing over her as she rides her horse. Now, her fa­vorite ac­tiv­ity is jump­ing, and she plans to rep­re­sent China on the eques­trian team at the Olympic Games.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing that fall­ing off the

horse and get­ting hurt may be a big con­cern for many par­ents, Con­stance's mom, Amy Love­day-Hu, said the risk is min­i­mal and a child could just as eas­ily get hurt cross­ing the road or driv­ing in a car. So, as a par­ent, her job is to make sure her daugh­ter gets proper pro­tec­tive gear and re­place them as soon as they wear out or get dam­aged.

“I come from a fam­ily that likes horses and also rugby, and both of those sports can get quite rough,” she aughed. “If you are happy do­ing it, it's a cal­cu­lated risk.”

A mar­ket for chil­dren

Cur­rently, more than 66 per­cent of the eques­trian club mem­bers in China are small chil­dren and teenagers, Chen said.

Lü Jian­hui, the CEO of Ipony In­ter­na­tional Youth Cava­liers Academy has an op­ti­mistic outlook on the eques­trian mar­ket for chil­dren in China.

“In 2014, when we started to es­tab­lish our club, chil­dren and teenagers had al­ready made up the ma­jor­ity in the Chi­nese mar­ket, but no pro­gram was tai­lored for this group,” he said.

He ex­plained that one of the rea­sons there are more kids than adults learn­ing the sport is that small chil­dren and teens have more spare time to learn.

“Over the years, we have seen in­creas­ing en­thu­si­asm from the mar­ket. More and more chil­dren are join­ing, and up­per-mid­dle-class fam­i­lies are ac­knowl­edg­ing its ben­e­fits for chil­dren,” Lü said, adding that he be­lieves kids and teens will be a ma­jor driv­ing force in the de­vel­op­ment of the sec­tor.

Aside from the warm­ing mar­ket, Chen said cur­rently, the per­cent­age of eques­trian en­thu­si­asts in China is very low com­pared to Euro­pean na­tions and that coaches in the coun­try are not well trained.

“There­fore, the is­sue we are fac­ing is how to ex­pand the num­ber of en­thu­si­asts while mak­ing the in­dus­try more pro­fes­sional,” he said.

Photo: Wei Xi/GT

Send your tips, in­sights or pho­tos to metrobj@glob­al­, or call our news line: +86 10 6536 7512 Ad­dress: The Global Times English Edi­tion, 2 Jin­tai Xilu, Chaoyang District, Bei­jing 100026. Six-year-old Li Zi­tong with her pony af­ter a class.

Pho­tos: Wei Xi/GT

Top: A group of small chil­dren dur­ing horse­back rid­ing class at Ipony In­ter­na­tional Youth Cava­liers Academy Inset: Chil­dren who learn horse­back rid­ing of­ten start at a young age.

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