China's quest for equestrian glory at a canter

Shanghai plays host to the 4th leg in the 2019 Global Champions Tour, where four of China's best riders are ready to compete against the world's top equestrian competitors. 

This year’s Global Champions Tour serves as a popular choice for those making Labor’s Day holiday plans in Shanghai. It’s the sixth year Shanghai has hosted the five-star show-jumping event, which gathers the world’s best horses and riders.

After previous stops in Doha, Mexico City and Miami Beach, the Shanghai event from May 3 to 5 is the 4th leg in the 2019 calendar of Global Champions Tour and GCL Championship race. Previous winners in Shanghai include Harrie Smolders from the Netherlands, Marco Kutscher from Germany and Gregory Wathelet from Belgium.

The most challenging 1.60-meter Grand Prix against the clock with jump off has been scheduled on May 4 this year.

For the GCL Championship, each team has six riders — one more than last year — to allow more flexibility for tactical inter-changes. The Shanghai Swans team is represented by: Daniel Deusser, Pius Schwizer, Shane Sweetnam, Peder Fredricson, Kamal Bahamdan and Kim Emmen.

As the most eastern stop of the championship race, Shanghai has an ever-growing number of new show-jumping fans, and popularity of the sport is developing fast. As riders from the host country, Chinese wildcarders have been given the precious opportunity to compete against their world-class counterparts.

Four of China’ riders — two young and two experienced — will have their skills tested in this year’s event.

Forty-six-year-old Zhang Bing is probably the best-known name in the four-member squad, as he competed for China at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Together with Huang Zuping, Zhao Zhiwen and Li Zhenqiang, they finished 16th in the show jumping team event, but were eliminated in the individual event’s preliminary round.

It was the first time China had sent participants in this discipline to the Olympics. After the Olympics, Zhang became an equestrian coach and is currently the vice director of the Shanghai Equestrian Management Center.

“Before 2008, China didn’t have a system for the sport and riders like us took a lot of detours,” said Zhang, who used to be a modern pentathlon athlete before turning to equestrian.

“Our horses were also inexperienced. I still remember that my 9-year-old horse refused to step forward to the starting area during the Olympics due to lack of competition experience,” Zhang added. “Now our riders and horses are getting more opportunities both at home and abroad.”

China's quest for equestrian glory at a canter

A rider jumps over a hurdle during the 2018 Global Champions Tour.

The other veteran rider is Yuan Maodong, who also participated in last year’s Global Champions Tour in Shanghai. Yuan was the second highest ranked Chinese rider in International Equestrian Federation’s standing in 2016. He is now the head coach of a Beijing-based equestrian club.

“In a world-class competition like this, I’m also a learner,” said Yuan. “The experience in Shanghai will broaden my vision and help in my future work when cultivating younger talent in my club.”

The two younger Chinese riders are 20-year-old Zhang Xingjia and 18-year-old Zhang You.

Zhang Xingjia is a rising star who has pocketed a few domestic championships in the past few years. His father is an equestrian fan and breeds horses himself. This created an ideal platform for Zhang to get involved with the sport.

Zhang started to hire professional coaches when he was 13 years old. The family is based in Jiaxing in neighboring Zhejiang Province. Zhang has been attending equestrian courses and training in Shanghai every weekend since the age of 13, keeping a balance between study and equestrian.

Compared to riders of his age, Zhang has rich competition experience, and was recently selected to join China’s national equestrian team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

The other young rider, Zhang You, started his career on horseback even earlier.

He was the youngest rider in a domestic equestrian competition in Beijing in 2011, and became the champion of a 90cm category competition at the age of 10. With support from his family, Zhang went to Denmark to study and train in equestrian in 2014. To represent China on the world stage, including in the Olympic Games, has also become Zhang’s dream.

“Compared to our days, the young Chinese riders are much luckier regarding the resources and support they get,” China’s veteran rider Huang Zuping said.

“With the development of economy, equestrian will become an industry, which is still at the starting stage in China. But we should not blindly follow the path of European countries when promoting the sport and industry. China should explore for its own way and the first step is to cultivate a culture including people’s understanding toward the sport.”

An international equestrian fair and equestrian-themed forum will continue to be organized during this year’s Global Champions Tour.

The horses will be able to enjoy upgraded service this year after local organizers found a new commercial partner, Mitsubishi. This year, the horses, which traveled all the way from Europe, will be arranged in stables equipped with air conditioners so that they can present best form in the three-day competition.

China's quest for equestrian glory at a canter

How to dress for Champions Tour

For gentlemen:

1. Men need to wear black or gray cutaway with a waistcoat and a tie (please do not wear a scarf).

2. Men should wear a top hat and a pair of black leather shoes.

3. They can take off their hats when in the restaurant, private box, private club, the balcony and garden.

4. They can also remove their hats in the seated area in the paddock garden.

5. However, customized top hats (attached with colorful ribbons or rings for example) are not allowed in the paddock.

For ladies:

1. Women should be in attire; the length of the dress and skirt alike should go around or beyond the knee.

2. The straps for women’s dress or top should be at least 1 inch (2.54 centimeters) long.

3. A coat or a tippet is possible, but the dress or top under should also follow the “1-inch” rule.

4. Strapless, tube dress, halter or thin-strap clothes are not allowed while clothes that do not wrap the girth are also a no.

5. Long trousers in proper texture and color are an alternative.

6. Women must wear a hat; a scarf with a diameter longer than 10 centimeters is also possible.

7. Feather piece or a scarf that cannot cover the head (diameter shorter than 10cm) is not allowed.

For children and other guests:

1. Teenage girls between 10-16 years old should choose formal clothing; a decent summer wear is suggested.

2. Girls can wear hats, scarves or feather headpieces, which are optional.

3. Teenage boys can refer to gentlemen’s dress code, or they can also be dressed in regular dark suit with a shirt and a tie inside, with no requirement on the hat.

4. Foreign guests can wear formal folk clothes or uniforms of their own countries. 

China's quest for equestrian glory at a canter

Want an edge? Here are some more tips to help you stand out (in the crowd):

1. Extravagant “hat trick.” The sponsor usually sets a bottom line on the size of the hat wear, but not the other way around. Use your imagination and be bold.

2. Take a risk with color contrast. Just look at Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, it might be a safe choice to stick to the same color scheme, but occasionally something out of the box like a match between a scarf and a hat would be a nice surprise.

3. Retro combination of black and white is always in fashion. Dots, stripes, patches and unique clothing style in black and white will put you in the spotlight.

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