China's equestrian industry faces big hurdles

Wed Mar 19, 2014 3:49am EDT
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By Natalie Thomas

BEIJING (Reuters) - Sima Ming is a horse breeder's dream. One of China's growing ranks of newly minted millionaires, he has a passion for horses and the bank balance to fund this expensive pastime.

"Sitting atop an animal that's so much bigger and faster than you is a great feeling," said Sima, a dressage enthusiast who keeps eight horses.

Sima, who made his money in construction, does not know how much he's spent on his horses. But with just one of his three imported Portuguese stallions having cost around 400,000 yuan ($65,000), the investment is more than small change.

As in other countries, horse ownership in China is not just about the joys of galloping through fields, it's about status.

"Some people buy cars, some people buy yachts or expensive jewellery," Sima said. "Often it's all about satisfying a different kind of demand, a psychological desire. Horses are the same. There are many people who buy horses and then never ride them."

China's equestrian industry has gone from being nearly non-existent 30 years ago to more than 300 clubs and 25 race tracks, according to the China Horse Industry Association, an official body tasked with coordinating the sector's development.

But for Shi Zheng, the Chinese representative of a French horse-breeding region, getting people like Sima to sign a deal is no easy task. He's up against the agents of at least eight other regions fighting to get China's horse lovers to buy.

"Everyone thinks because Chinese people are very rich they'll buy anything," said Shi, voicing doubts about the strength of demand.   Continued...