Trainer saddles up for big dream


Yuan Hao chases his dream of training a star racehorse at Shandan Horse Breeding Farm in Gansu province. (Wang Chao/For China Daily)   

Gently petting a horse named Dandan, Yuan Hao, a 27-year-old horse groomer, starts to bathe, brush and feed the horse before going for a ride on the grasslands. This is Yuan's way of communicating with Dandan, a horse bred and raised on Shandan Horse Breeding Farm in Gansu province.

Lying at the foothills of the Qilian Mountains, the farm has a history of more than 2,000 years and now serves as a major horse breeding facility in China. This year is Yuan's fourth year training Dandan after he joined the farm, where his family worked and he grew up.

Dandan is a Shandan horse, a species bred by the farm. Used as army horses for a long time, the breed boasts physical fitness and good endurance.

For Yuan, it is a long-cherished dream to train Shandan horses like Dandan as racehorses and bring them to equestrian competitions.

"Currently horses participating in equestrian competitions are mainly imported breeds. I want to see Shandan horses compete with other breeds in equestrian sports one day," says Yuan.

Before working on the farm, Yuan was a coach at an equestrian club in Jiangsu province, where he found that encouragement is more useful than whipping when it comes to teaching horses different skills.

"The key to horsemanship is to cultivate the tacit understanding between the rider and horse," Yuan says.

It took him about half a year to get familiar with Dandan, Yuan recalls, adding that he discovered a lot of potential in Shandan horses as he spent more time with it. "Shandan horses are suitable for dressage and show-jumping."

Spanning an area of 2,195 square kilometers, the farm is at an altitude between 2,420 meters and 4,933 meters, which limits training activities due to low temperatures. With no indoor horse arena on the farm, Yuan has to make training obstacles by himself using simple materials like haystacks and PVC poles.

Training with Dandan is not easy work. Yuan once fell from Dandan five times during obstacle jump training, and the horse was scared to jump. Yuan had to lead the horse and circle around the obstacle to soothe its mood.

"A horse is like a child. So we should not lose our temper and we must be patient."

Dandan's combined training hours have exceeded six months, and it is getting more stable and better at following instructions. Yuan is also closely following competition notices released by the Chinese Equestrian Association and preparing Dandan for the coming training as it gets warmer.

"I feel I'm one step closer to my dream," Yuan says, looking at Dandan.

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