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Sports car, yacht, jet - and horse

FOR the man and woman who have everything, there's another must-have emblem of new wealth - a thoroughbred horse. Michelle Zhang saddles up.

The horse, as an incarnation of strength and beauty, is a cherished animal in Chinese culture. There are quite a few Chinese idioms about the horse such as ma dao cheng gong (success comes immediately upon the arrival of the horse), yi ma dang xian (a horse in the forefront; take the lead) and kuai ma jia bian (to spur the flying horse to full speed; to proceed as quickly as possible).

China's debut in Olympic equestrian event during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games has generated a wave of interest in horseback riding among wealthy young Chinese, who are embracing the leisure activity that was once only for the privileged Europeans.

Meanwhile, equestrian clubs, traders, training schools and polo equipment suppliers from home and abroad are trying to profit from this nascent market.

China has more than 400 horse ranches, more than 40,000 horse owners and more than 1 million horse fans, all increasing at an annual rate of around 20 percent, indicating huge potential.

Horses have become the next pursuit among wealthy Chinese people after racing cars, private yachts and jets, says Yue Gaofeng, executive vice secretary-general of the China Horse Industry Association.

"Playing polo represents a new luxury lifestyle," he says. "For a long time, horseback riding was considered a sport exclusive to men. However, nowadays, more and more women and children have joined the games."

Horseback riding has become a popular family activity for the weekend, especially for young parents who have worked hard to enjoy a middle-class life.

Housewife and writer Shu Qiao drives her BMW 320 to Asgard Horsemanship Club in the Beijing suburbs every week. She buys lessons for 200 yuan (US$29.50)a session so her three-year-old daughter Chloe can learn how to ride a pony.

"Many expat children are taking lessons there, too," says the 30-year-old Shanghai native who now lives in the capital city. "Children love to be close to the animals, and I believe this connection is part of human nature."

At first the young mother went to the stable to go riding herself, and she would buy a bucket of carrots for Chloe to feed the horses.

"As time went by, she became more familiar with the horses and wanted to do the same thing that mom is doing," Shu says. "She rode a pony for the first time on her second birthday.

Chloe now knows how to sit firmly in the daddle, how to control the reins and how to have a "conversation" with horses, by patting their necks to tell them they are good.

An adult horse is said to have the intelligence quotient level of a 13-year-old.

Selina Shen, who recently returned to her hometown Shanghai after six years' study in Australia, has fallen in love with horseback riding.

Back in Australia, she watched the Melbourne Cup with friends and was captivated by the enthusiastic atmosphere and the lightning speed of the horses.

The 23-year-old remembers the first time she rode a horse, at the Nine Dragons Hill Polo Club in neighboring Zhejiang Province, about an hour's drive from Shanghai.

"Before, the only image I had in my mind about women and horses was Queen Elizabeth on the horseback overlooking the battlefield," she giggles. "It was only after I had my personal experience with a horse that I came to realize that horseback riding isn't only about being cool and valiant but also about being myself - I feel the ultimate freedom and elegance while riding."

She was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and plans to buy a horse of her own in the near future.

"I don't care too much about the looks of the horse but it has to be in great harmony with me," she says. "I believe there is a kind of yuanfen (connection) between human beings and horses, and I'm keeping my eyes wide open in search of 'the one'."

From tomorrow to Sunday, the 2010 China International Horse Fair will be held at the Shanghai East Asia Exhibition Hall, where more than 50 steeds of 14 breeds will be displayed, including famous "warmblood" breeds such as Hanoverian, Holsteiner and French Selle Francais and "hotblood" breeds such as Arabian and Australian Hotblood.

Date: September 24-25, 9am-5pm; September 26, 9am-4pm

Venue: Shanghai East Asia Exhibition Hall, 666 Tianyaoqiao Rd

Admission: 30 yuan

Tel: 5134-2588 ext 121


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