'Sacrificing horse for fame': Man riding from Europe to China faces cruelty claims

A Chinese man recently in the news for his plan to travel on horseback from Europe to China is in the headlines again after he was accused of animal cruelty.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post composite

A 32-year-old Chinese man who shot to fame after starting a journey from western Europe to China on horseback may have to cut his trip short after allegations of animal abuse.

Xu Zhixian, from Heze in Shandong province, eastern China, was detained by police in the Netherlands recently after they received complaints alleging Xu was abusing his horse, Toutiao News reported.

On February 20, Zhixian started a planned journey riding his eight-year-old purebred Arabian white male horse, Huihui, from Spain to central China.

Moving about 30 kilometres a day, he has so far travelled through Spain, France and Belgium.

Late last month, the pair reached the Netherlands after covering more than 2,500 kilometres.

In a video Zhixian posted online earlier this week he said local police in the Netherlands had detained him and taken his horse into custody, but said he was released two days later after they failed to prove the abuse allegations.

Zhixian had previously only ridden a horse once, and says he had to spend three months learning to ride before starting his journey.
PHOTO: Weibo

Zhixian then resumed his journey, however, two days later the police questioned him again, this time with a vet accompanying them.

The vet gave the horse a full health check and then, according to Zhixian, told him that the horse had received an injury before he purchased it.

"I am informed that the horse doesn't feel up to a long journey based on the policy of animal protection groups," Zhixian said.

Zhixian says he will accept the outcome of the vet’s follow up examination, even if it means the end of his horseback journey.
PHOTO: Weibo

Zhixian said he followed police guidance to stay put and wait three more weeks until the police and vet came for a follow-up review.

Zhixian said he is now resigned to the reality of the situation and told the police that they would end their intercontinental journey if required.

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"I will probably look for a farm for the horse. We will end this trip if the horse feels unwell," Zhixian said.

A video news report on Zhixian and his horse had received 5.14 million views and 6,019 comments on mainland social media at the time of writing.

Many people said they believed he had abused the horse, but some said they believed Zhixian had not violated any laws.

One commented: "Isn't the horse exhausted?! Sacrificing the horse for internet traffic!"

"Would it be better if he travelled by walking or cycling? On a horse? I think he is abusing it," another wrote.

Another commenter said: "Is riding a horse considered cruelty to animals? How about the equestrian competition at the Olympic Games?"

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.