As equestrian pursuits become more popular, children are leading the charge. Yang Feiyue reports.
China's horse stampede is on, and children are leading the charge.
Most new riders are children, Chinese equestrian website Horse.org.cn's editor-in-chief Wu Zhala says.
"Parents hope their children can get fit and learn to respect animals and nature," Wu says.
Beijing has about 150 equestrian clubs with an average of 100 members younger than 18, Wu says.
The pastime has won new popularity in the past five years or so, says Zhang Xiao-xue, a senior riding coach with Huanglin Horsemanship in the Daxing district of Beijing.
The ranch now hosts about 200 members, who must make reservations before visits.
Ma Limei proudly shows a smartphone video of her 8-year-old son riding without assistance at another ranch in a northeastern Beijing suburb. He is clad in riding boots and a helmet as his horse trots along the track.
"I sent him to learn horsemanship to exercise his body and cultivate his temperament," Ma says.
"There's a charm to horsemanship that especially appeals to kids that may provide a sense of fulfillment."
Stables generally charge 150-500 yuan ($24-80) per lesson for packages of 30-50 sessions.
Ma spent more than 10,000 yuan on 70 45-minute classes. The fee does not include tutorship, which costs an additional 200 yuan per session.
Ma believes it is money well spent, since her son can ride by himself after two months of training.
Typically, children can start at age 5 and need 10-20 lessons before independently mounting and riding.
After mastering the basics, teens can tackle hurdle races and dressage, in which the horse and rider "perform from memory a series of predetermined movements", according to the International Equestrian Federation's definition.
The federation calls dressage "the highest expression of horse training".
While Chinese literature romantically paints riding as a literally unbridled adventure, contemporary equestrians observe a "safety-first" motto.
Injuries are usually caused by improperly trained horses and riders, says Liu Jianhe, a senior Huanglin member.
The first step of British-style horsemanship is teaching children about horses and their habits, and letting children interact with the animals.
"Children should understand horses are timid," Zhang says.
"They shouldn't stand behind them. Standing in their blind spot will probably cause them to kick."
They also need to learn to feed them with open palms to prevent biting.
Zhang believes riding can enhance communication skills.
"They'll have to not only connect with coaches but also use body language to express themselves to the horses."
Riding also improves posture.
Ma's son recently wrote in his diary after his horse failed to run as fast as requested: "Did my horse not sleep well last night so it was tired today?"
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