Equestrian giving rural teenagers a better life | Shanghai Daily

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August 11, 2018

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Equestrian giving rural teenagers a better life

EQUESTRIANISM had never been heard of in Yihuang, an agricultural county in east China’s Jiangxi Province, until Sunshine Riding School began recruiting rural teenagers in 2015.

So far, most of the 90 students are working or aspiring to work in horse-riding clubs in China’s largest cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou.

Huang Wanpeng, 19, in black riding suit and velvet helmet, whispers intently to a bloodhorse named Gold. Receiving the order, the horse begins pacing elegantly.

Huang is a typical “left-behind child,” whose parents work hundreds of kilometers away, leaving him at home with his grandparents.

“I have no talent for studying, and I’ve never achieved anything before. If I had missed this chance, I might be working in a factory, or even be unemployed, living off my parents,” says Huang.

Huang is fortunate, as such riding schools are rarely seen in China’s countryside. Looking to provide equestrian training, Xin Chenghua founded this school in 2015 at the age of 46 after acquiring over 50 horses, including some retired racehorses and two expensive Ferghana bloodhorses.

All students are able to study here for free thanks to government subsidies and a financial support from employer’s clubs. The local government provides the school with 3,000 yuan (US$452) for each student every year. The school also receives 10,000 yuan from the employer for each graduate hired by clubs. Moreover, the students can get paid whilst studying thanks to the availability of part-time guide jobs for tourists.

According to Beijing Turf & Equestrian Association, China had 1,452 equestrian clubs in July 2017, soaring from 906 in October 2016. The total number of equestrian club members in China is over 970,000.

“The market requires personnel with both riding and communication skills, so the students here have a good chance of employment. Most of them have been hired by famous horse-riding clubs in Beijing and Shanghai,” says Xin.

Nevertheless, the students have many obstacles to clear.

“I was too scared to command the horse at first,” says 19-year-old Zhou Jian. “The horses can bully rookie riders.”

In order to build a connection with the horses, a students’ daily routine includes mucking out, horseshoeing and washing. Zhou stayed with a sick horse for days until its condition improved.

“Horses are proud, you can’t ride them until they accept your care and respect,” adds Zhou.

By the end of the first semester, Sunshine Riding School held a contest among the students, and Huang won the first prize.

“My father saw the video of the contest on a coworker’s mobile phone, and he showed off to everyone saying ‘that’s my son’,” says Huang. “It was the first time he felt proud of me. I never dedicated myself to anything before equestrianism. It makes me happy.”

Last year, a club in Shanghai offered Huang a job with a monthly salary of 10,000 yuan, but he turned it down.

“This is a crucial time for studying. Although working in a club would be profitable, I am not yet ready for it,” he says.

Huang plans to become a professional rider. He aspires to take care of club members’ horses, while concurrently taking part in contests with the horses. Involvement with horses has even helped cure a girl’s psychogenic disorder.

Tang Siqi, 21, had serious communication problems due to dysphonia. But after spending one year with horses, she is not only a good rider now but also a receptionist to clients.

“I love the horses, they make me feel confident,” says Tang, who enjoys feeding her favorite horse with apples.

“Equestrianism is changing the students’ lives. It improves self-discipline, confidence and willpower,” says Wu Qingde, counselor of the Sunshine Riding School. “They can make a difference for themselves and their family.”

Sunshine Riding School will host its first equestrian event as part of the Jiangxi Provincial Games. The local government is now helping the school build an equestrian village to a professional standard with a new dorm for the students.

“I will do my best to win a prize,” vows Huang.




 

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