Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Our riders were prepared to embark on the first day of the Zhaosu festival with a scenic 80 km trek through the town and surrounding grasslands following the extravagant opening ceremonies.
Shortly after 8:00 a.m. we had arrived once again at the 77th Army Corps’ racetrack which was the central point for all of the festival’s activities. The Canadian Equestrian Ambassadors’ horses had already been brought back from their overnight grazing area and were patiently tied in a row. They looked rested and refreshed following the previous day’s journey to this location.
Quickly our team stripped the horses of the saddles that had been provided and rubbed them down with long grass since we did not have any brushes with us. The horses were jogged for soundness and their heart rates were taken so that the riders had a baseline before starting out on the day’s ride.
Before long the opening ceremonies commenced with a parade of hundreds of horses in front of the thousand-plus spectators who lined the racetrack rail adjacent to the main stage where dozens of dignitaries sat to witness the activities. The parade of horses showcased the multitude of horse activities taking place in this part of China and the various breeds, including the Yili breed native to the area and many imports such as Thoroughbreds, Akhal-Tekes and even what looked like a Shetland pony. The 104 endurance riders followed suit and Canada’s team of riders were the delight of the crowd as our flag bearer, Elroy, waved the large Canadian flag high in the air. Ethnic dancing and performances followed, after which a group of over one thousand horses were herded together for a gallop past the ceremonies, not far from the performances. The scene was breathtaking. The need for a telephoto lens will be mourned for some time to come.
Following the opening ceremonies, speed racing for Thoroughbred, Yili and mixed breeds commenced at the track with some race formats unlike anything experienced in Canada, such as trotting races under saddle and long distance races of 5,000 to 12,000 metres. The riders used a wide variety of tack and equipment that ranged from very rudimentary to that seen on international racetracks. Some of the jockeys even raced bareback!
There were several media groups on hand for the festival’s opening and they were curious to know about Canada’s participation. Interviewed through the assistance of one of our interpreters, Barb conveyed the key message of EC Export’s objectives: Canada’s willingness to partner with China in its quest to build its horse industry. She stated that we could support this goal with Canada’s expertise, horses and genetics. Our message was circulated in both print and on television.
Shortly after noon the first leg of the endurance ride left the racetrack for a parade through town. Although the initial part of the route was neither scenic nor easy going for the barefoot horses who were clearly not accustomed to travelling on pavement, one realizes the importance of the parade since the festival was a central activity in creating awareness for the horse industry in this area.
The first half of the ride included a couple of rest stops, one in town and one along the river where the horses could drink. On the outskirts of town, before the ride headed into the grasslands, everyone stopped at a local camp ground around 4:30 p.m. where the riders were provided with a sit-down buffet lunch in one of the buildings while the horses were tethered together in the long grass under nearby trees.
After an hour of rest, the majority of the 100-plus riders and horses set off on the second leg of the ride, including Bob and Wendy from Canada. Although their mounts were not the kind of endurance horses they were used to, these ranch horses were sound and fit for the slower pace the Canadian riders were maintaining. Gail and Elroy opted to retire from the ride because of their horse’s fatigue and foot soreness from traversing long stretches of pavement earlier in the day.
The second leg of the ride followed the Kelatubai River through the rolling hills of ancient grasslands at the foot of snow-capped mountains. The breathtaking beauty of the area was staggering. The ride passed the camps of many nomadic herdsmen, and herds of horses, sheep and cattle, along with the occasional camel, were seen along the way.
At the completion of the long ride everyone was welcomed at Camp Kelasu. The horses were tethered together in a large paddock where they had ample grass. A water truck arrived on site and groups of horses were each led to the roadside to drink before returning to the paddock for the night.
Just before the sun was to set around 10:00 p.m. the Canadian delegation along with riders from a facility near Hong Kong and their UK trainer, Richard Allen, joined the endurance event organizer, Mr. Wu, and Zhaosu government officials for a special supper in the home of the local family who occupied the land where the day’s ride had come to an end. Although weary from the first day of the Zhaosu festival that had started nearly 14 hours earlier, the Canadian delegation was honoured to be guests in a private home in this beautiful and remote part of China.
To see photos of the opening ceremonies of the Zhaosu festival and the Canadian Equestrian Ambassadors on the first day’s ride through the town and grasslands, view our Facebook photo journal at www.Facebook.com/ECExport.
Watch for the next blog entry where the Canadian delegation spends the second day of the Zhaosu festival at the speed racing meet taking place at the 77th Army Corps racetrack.
The Equine Canada Export Market Development program (EC Export) is the driver to brand the Canadian equine industry in international markets. It is guided by a long-term international strategy that involves activities to “brand” Canada as a quality producer of expertise and events as well as horses suitable for racing, FEI and non-FEI sport, breed-specific competition and breeding. EC Export is self-funded by industry participants with 50% of some eligible expenses covered by the AgriMarketing Program (AMP) of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). AMP is an important vehicle for bringing greater cohesion to associations’ marketing efforts to brand Canadian food and agriculture as a whole in international markets. As mandated by AAFC, EC Export fully utilizes the resources and tool kit of the Canada Brand program.
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