Saddling up in Chaoyang
Nothing best takes advantage of those lingering days of summer like a quiet horseback ride through the wilderness. And though Ascot it is not, Beijing nevertheless has its fair share of equestrian options for kids and adults.
Among the several horseback riding clubs in and around Beijing is the Asgard Horsemanship Club near Shunyi, run by husband-and-wife team Daisy and Ren Yake, both avid horseback riders. Now in its second year, Asgard boasts 32 horses – including a newborn colt named Amigo – from Denmark, Germany, Holland, Canada, Hong Kong, Russia and China.
“We started off with only ten horses,” recalls Daisy, “and now we have plans to build new stables in September that will house up to 80. The demand is always growing!” In addition to stables, Asgard also features an abundance of outdoor spaces: a soccer field, children’s playground, a fishing and duck pond, petting zoo and a fruit orchard. In addition, Asgard hosts weekly barbecues and offers accommodations for just RMB 300 a night.
In spite of all the distractions, when 10-year-old Lisa Herweck comes to Asgard, she focuses solely on horse jumping. Lisa, who has been riding horses since she was 6 years old and living in Germany, has been coming to Asgard for the past few months.
“Promising Lisa that she would be able to ride in Beijing was the only way we could convince her to happily move from Germany to China,” confesses Lisa’s mother, Tina.
Lisa’s lesson starts off on in one of the outdoor dirt fields, with her instructor, Erwin Hsao, calling out commands from the sidelines and marching onto the field when he needs to give specific guidance to Lisa. The experienced equestrian coach has received four stars from the English Equestrian Club and, like all of Asgard’s instructors, is able to conduct lessons in both English and Chinese.
“They don’t let the kids ride the horses in the beginning,” says Tina. “Kids walk with the horse and get to know the animal before
mounting.” Only after a child garners a certain level of confidence – usually during the second lesson – is she allowed to take horses out for rides, accompanied by one of Asgard’s teachers.
With more experience, riders can show off their saddle and bridle skills by joining members from clubs across Beijing in Asgard’s monthly competitions. The Beijing Equuleus International Riding Club also hosts dressage and show jumping awards, with contests on Fridays.
Unlike most kids’ outdoor activities, horseback riding requires safety equipment such as chaps, riding pants, gloves and helmets – essential items that the folks at Asgard are happy to rent out or give advice for purchases around Beijing. Riding a horse also warrants particular prudence, as horses may be many times a rider’s size. To nervous novices, however, Hsao has just one simple word of wisdom: Relax! Tina also reminds anxious parents, “If you’re afraid, it doesn’t mean that your child is. You must let them go and encourage them to get back on the horse when they fall.”
Horseback riding is a great way to keep kids physically active outdoors and allows them to build bonds with animals as well as the natural environment. Both owners and instructors stress that teaching a student to care for and understand horses is almost as important as the actual riding. “Riding horses is hard work, learning to control the horse and stay in the saddle isn’t easy,” says Lisa. ”But it’s worth it – I love riding, and it’s even more exciting now that I know how to jump and can practice for competitions.”
Asgard Horsemanship Club
RMB 300 for a 50-minute lesson. Memberships available for RMB 2,300 (10 sessions), RMB 6,600 (30 sessions) and RMB 9,800 (50 sessions).
Shunhuang Lu (just west of Danshui Restaurant), Chaoyang District