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Riding the winds of change in China

Update Date:2018-11-1 18:20:42     Views:429

Riding the winds of change in China

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When I held my four-year-old daughter onto the back of a tethered pony at an equestrian club in suburban Beijing last weekend, she could not help crying: "I am scared, mummy. I don't want to do this!"


But 20 minutes later, with the help of an instructor, she sat well on the saddle and began to follow the motion of the horse, cheerfully.


I was amazed, not only at my girl's natural intimacy with horses, but also at the popularity of this niche sport among today's young people.


During my stay there in the entire afternoon, I saw about two dozen children or teenagers practice horse riding, but only one adult rider.


A young mum, who drives for one hour and a half every Sunday to take her three-year-old son to a 45-minute training session there, said: "I just want my son to have some idea of this gentleman sport. And it is nice to give him an opportunity to interact with animals. "


When I was my girl's age, in the 1980s, rowing a boat, visiting the zoo or playing hide-and-seek with fellow friends were the most common recreational activities for young children on weekends. Pastimes like riding a horse or rink skating were bourgeois pleasures that we watched on Hollywood films.


But thanks to China's rapid growing affluence, a larger number of people can now afford to participate in such expensive sports. Now youth participation in ice hockey and fencing has also soared in big Chinese cities like Beijing. Media reported that 96 junior hockey club teams, with about 2,000 young players, have registered with the Beijing Ice Hockey Association's Minor Hockey Premier League.


Smart businessmen have sensed enormous market opportunities and some have made fortunes from the parents' willingness to give their children an all-rounded and individualistic development. The equestrian lessons cost 400 yuan ($65) to 500 yuan a session, which usually lasts for 30 to 45 minutes. But they can be a lot more expensive if you consider costs of transportation and time for the parents.


And unlike traditional parents who would force children to pick up a hobby simply because it would bring additional marks in school entrance exams, today's young parents tend to be more open-minded as they want to raise healthier and more sociable children.


Taking a sport like horse riding or hockey may also enable the child to better understand the Western culture, which paves the way for their future studies abroad-a choice adopted by a growing number of Chinese families.


The owner of the club that I went to, who quit as the senior executive of a listed company six months ago, has the ambition to open a chain of equestrian clubs in China.


With an initial investment of 30 million yuan, he opened the first club in May in Beijing and expects to recover the cost in five years.


However, it is no easy money, with discerning parents.


With broadened horizon and higher education, today's parents have become much more demanding in services they receive. The training needs to be professional, as many of the parents have good knowledge about the sport.


They may also require business operators to have good understanding of the foreign culture behind the sport, and expect international exchange programs as well.


Although my daughter has repeatedly asked when she can ride a horse again, I have decided we won't go to the club again, simply because I visited its website and saw wrong English translation. If they don't know native English, they don't really understand this Western sport.


But, a better equestrian club might be the option.


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