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More Chinese parents sign their kids up for equestrian classes
Published on: 2018-05-29
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030While 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 five-year-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.

Six year old Li Zitong with her pony after a class

Six-year-old Li Zitong with her pony after a class

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."

031Wei 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.

Children who learn horseback riding often start at a young age

Children who learn horseback riding often start at a young age

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.

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.

A group of small children during horseback riding classA 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.

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A father walks alongside his son who is riding a pony

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.

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