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November 6, 2010

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Horse sense from Songcheng Equestrian Club

HORSEBACK riding is getting popular, with more and more people swinging into the saddle at the Shanghai Songsheng Equestrian Club.

Club trainer Li Zhiguo from northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region has been riding, raising and training horses (and riders) for decades.

"A good horse has shiny healthy hair, bright, piercing eyes and erect ears," he says. "Its legs are in a straight line, which is important for racing and hurdles."

Just like humans, horses have their distinct personalities. Some are mischievous, some are laid-back, others are competitive. Some spend their lives trying to please while others only want to win at all costs. Certain horses are tough as nails, others are as soft as marshmallows.

Horses can be divided into three types - hot blood, cold blood and warm blood - it has nothing to do with their blood temperature or breed.

The warm-blooded horse is the most common. It's not as small and lightly muscled as the hot-blooded horse, nor tall and heavily muscled as the cold-blooded horse. They're in between.

A hot-blood horse usually has a hot temper, it's high strung and has great endurance - it's not easy to ride. A cold-blood horse has a higher IQ, a gentler temperament and is suited to dressage and jumping hurdles. Many warm blood horses are used in competitions.

The equestrian club has around 20 thoroughbreds imported from Australia and Europe, and almost 40 domestic horses, most from Yili in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The club covers more than 100,000 square meters and is the biggest club in the city. It includes an international-standard barrier racetrack, an outdoor practice ground, an indoor lighted dressage practice arena and two training fields with diameters of 15 meters and 20 meters.

Riding lessons are offered.

The average annual cost for boarding and training a horse is around 50,000 yuan (US$7,505).

Horses are costly pets. A horse in the club usually eats four meals a day, including a late-night snack.

Their staple food is a balanced blend of wheat bran, oats and corn starch, supplemented with various vitamins, calcium, phosphorous and salt.

A thoroughbred eats 6-7.5kg of the blend and another 8-10 kilograms of hay every day.

"The nutritious diet helps horses gain strength while the hay helps increase fat," trainer Li says. "The late-night snack is clover imported from Canada."

Normally training starts when a horse is around 2 years old; at the age of 4, it's usually strong enough to carry a rider.

"In training we observe which kind of competition the horse is suited for, based on its muscle and strength performance," says Li. "The most important thing is to correct a horse's gait because with an uneven gait a horse can stumble."

It takes time and patients to win a horse's trust and establish friendship, he says. "The best way is to stay with a horse as long as possible."

Sometimes horses are closer to their trainers than their owners.

If horses are unhappy they may bite or jump, says Li. "You can pat its neck gently to calm it down."

The trainer always takes along carrots or a candy bar to reward a horse in training.

Address: 621 Renmintang Rd E.

Tel: 5139-8100

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