XINJIANG: From riding to racing

Chinese Culture

Erhanat Emmamjan
Erhanat’s father is 80 years old and his love of riding is as strong as ever. The modern world still has a place for this tradition.

From the series XINJIANG: Exploring China’s new frontier

There are some 9 million horses in China, and most are for transportation. But nowadays breeding is focusing on sports and entertainment. The industry is developing fast, with growing numbers of equestrian clubs all over the country. For our special series Xinjiang: Exploring China’s New Frontier, reporter Han Bin goes to Zhaosu County, known as the “hometown of Pegasus”. Zhaosu is in the Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture of Ili. It aims to become a key base of horse breeding and racing in Central Asia in five years.

Zhaosu has the best grassland in Xinjiang. For centuries, the Kazakh people have been living here with their livestock. It is also famous for raising horses.

Erhanat Emmamjan learned to ride before he could walk. Kazakhs like to say their children are born on horseback. Although horses won’t make the family rich, they’re an important part of their lives.

“Kazahks are a nomadic minority. We live in the pasture during summer, and settle down in yurts in winter. Most are engaged in animal husbandry. Grazing can be self-sufficient, and riding horses keeps you fit. Life is wonderful.”

Erhanat’s father is 80 years old and his love of riding is as strong as ever. The modern world still has a place for this tradition.

But many young people, like Erhanat, have exchanged their life in the saddle for a career in business. The business of horses.

XINJIANG: From riding to racing

For the Kazakhs, horses used to be only for transportation. Now they are mainly for sports and entertainment. Their tradition has taken a modern turn, as Xinjiang creates a strong horse industry.

Erhanat is now a horse trainer and works for a local company. Most of the horses are imported, the so-called “blood-sweating” breed. Some have won international racing awards.

“The blood-sweating horses are tall, and with robust physiques. I first saw one 5 years ago in our town. When I saw him, I was shocked. He looked like a horse in a fairy tale,” said Erhanat. “How could I have dreamed that I could train one in the future?”

Erhanat spends most of his time with a horse called Dragon King. The company brought him from Australia 4 years ago. Dragon King is a former British Tournament Champion. Now he is mainly used as a stud.

“Horses raised in my family graze wild on the grassland. But race horses are raised with great care and training. Their relationship with humans is much closer,” said Erhanat. “I have to check his legs and groom him every day. Horse racing is about the unity of man and horse. When I went back home for a few days, I dreamed of him, and missed him so much.”

Zhaosu horse training fields

Zhaosu has built the largest and most modern racetracks in Xinjiang. It has organized several key racing events. The goal is a strong horse base in Central Asia.

Though it has sports lotteries, betting is illegal on the Chinese Mainland. But private developers are pressing ahead with ambitious schemes, hoping that will change some day in Xinjiang. If that happens, Zhaosu is ready.

“I don’t want to follow in my father’s footsteps, living a nomadic life. I wish to accumulate more experience, so that one day I could go to bigger cities, to earn more money,” said Erhanat.

Kazakhs have an old saying that “horses are the wings of man.” And Erhanat’s dreams are soaring.

Preferential policies are strengthening his confidence. He says the horses he trains will bring fame and fortune, to both him and the vast prairie that he calls home.