Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The horse China

Well, hell. 
 Somebody's gonna have to shoe 'em.

Yeah.  I'm thinkin' again. 

As a previous visitor to the People's Republic of China and points far to the north --  China's version of the semi-wild west, I came to admire the people and the challenges of life in the world's most populous country.  During my academic years, I also studied China's history -- for I believe that the present can never be understood without fully appreciating the past.  A lesson that many Americans fail to appreciate and that sadly, the State Department rarely bothers to explore.  Tunnel vision?  Perhaps. Maybe too, a bit of arrogance at its most counter-productive level.  If the provocateurs of interventionism had taken the time to truly understand the history, culture, geo-political and social realities of Afghanistan, they wouldn't of cared to touch the place (in American jingo), 'with a ten-foot pole.'

Now, while I don't always agree with the Chinese government (or my own, for that matter), I do admire the agility with which it is able to operate.  Concurrently, I also disagree with those that care to push the 'democratic card' in a country with a social burden the size and magnitude found in the PRC.  As I have often said, democracy might be fine for some, but it is not always exportable to countries or regions with markedly differing realities.  But I'll save that argument for a different day.

However, it appears the horse has returned to China.  This is the result of China's rather explosive entry into world commerce.  This has resulted in the creation of both a new middle class for China and the notion of upward mobility through effort and ambition -- here with the blessing, or perhaps reluctance of the central government.  So those of you who wish to keep referring to the PRC as 'communist,' better look up the word.  The first tenet of communism is a classless society.  Well gee, time for everybody to work a little harder at developing a new nomenclature for the country.  Maybe look up the political term, 'corporatism.'  Might ring some of the bells.

What has brought back the horse as recreation and business is what many Americans have been missing of late:  expendable income.  The Chinese government, ever vigil on the nuanced musings of its populace, quickly understood the impact of this new middle class.  It is the garden where optimism and its dangerous sidekick, 'expectation' hangs out.  Most revolutions begin here.  Not when the door is closed and locked, but when it opens just enough to allow a glimmer of light.  Subsequently, the government responded by pouring millions, perhaps billions of yuans into programs and policies meant to benefit (or perhaps quiet), the stirrings of this new element of Chinese society.  While not directly a goal of these new policies, the horse nevertheless made the list and concurrently attracted a lot of outside attention from the more economically astute nations of the west and east. And no, America isn't one of them...yet.

Right now, most of this outside interest (and investment), is is by the Irish, Australians and of course Dubai, the latter by the Meyden Group, the same folks responsible for taking Emirates racing to the top echelons of the sport in a matter of ten short years.  They see a great deal of potential in the PRC and while progress has been slow on the government side (particularly with the adoption of a pari-mutuel type betting system), they do see the wheel gradually turning their way.  Currently, their chief investments include a racing center in the Wuhan prefecture and a $2.6 billion 'Horse City' in Tianjin.  The latter will also include an equestrian college and expects to attract a multi-disciplinary clientele.  Similar projects are underway by the Australians in Chengdu with similar interests (both racing and equestrian), in Shanghai and Beijing.  China has also seen the emergence of numerous and varying 'horse groups,' covering a wide range of disciplines.  And the FEI is watching these developments with a good deal of interest.  But yes, the movement is cautious and painfully slow by western standards.  And communication is difficult at present.  But the interest is high and the participants enthusiastic. 

That leads to my main question.  How to bring the expertise to support this widening industry to China?  Qualified veterinary care, farriery, equipment and an infrastructure on parallel with what may be a monumental investment in our four-legged partner?  Well, when I was at Beijing University in 1991, the Animal Science Department boasted a single dingy office.  That was the extent of the interest in 'animal science' at that time.  Shoeing on the streets was conducted right there...on the street, using flattened rebar and handmade nails.  The only real expertise existed at the two major race tracks in Hong Kong:  Happy Valley and Sha-tin.  The older racetracks, even those found in Inner Mongolia had been abandoned (though oddly, maintained), for decades.

For now, China can certainly import talent to address the needs of this new industry.  But that is both short-sighted and certainly finite in duration.  What I see is a strong need to establish new educational systems in the country, from large animal veterinary science on down.  All areas are needed to train and equip Chinese nationals in what it takes to maintain this new venture, pragmatically and humanely.  A tremendous opportunity exists here and it runs far beyond the avenues of commerce.  It is a chance to bring the wonderful diplomacy and good will that the horse universally represents to a whole new community.  The politicians and the pundits rarely get it right, but the horse...well, they bring a wonderful commonality that doesn't require the language of any single nation.  Bring your passion, leave the rest at home.

[Correction: Status of the Tianjing project, including the equestrian college is apparently on hold due to investment difficulties I am told just today.  It is very difficult to obtain accurate information out of the PRC.]

From this.....


To This....

Beijing [image:]

Tianjin [image:]

More later.....