- 4 December 2014, 18:51
From The Irish Examiner
by John Tynan
BRIAN Morrison landed in Beijing, China, last month, missing half his luggage, including his saddle and tack. Whisked to Mr Li’s riding school in the centre of the capital, he had a quick lunch and, jet lag notwithstanding, he was put up on a stallion, Ben Nevis. No hanging around here.
Mr Li Zhenqiang is a rich man, a show jumper who represented China at the Beijing Olympics, and a man with a vision: To nurture show jumping in his country’s children. Irish horses have a forgiving nature, making them the ideal product, hence eventer/show jumper Morrison’s long trip from his West Cork home. He is an ambassador for Hyde Equestrian in Glanmire with the intention of cementing a relationship with Mr Li.
“I work for Jean Gill and Corinne Hyde of Hyde Equine, and Vinny Duffy of Duffy Sport Horses. They’ve been out to China and Vinny’s son Michael was at the Youth Olympics where he met Mr Li, whose son was on the Chinese team.
“Mr Li is probably the No 1 rider in China. He owns the Camelot Riding Resort and Country Club in Guangdong in the south east. It’s like a five-star resort with 1,000 members and he wants to build the sport there, teaching and encouraging children. They generally start kids on Shetlands and then move them onto horses, even stallions, that are often not suitable. Almost every Chinese rider wants a black or grey stallion. It’s more about looks, rather than suitability. It’s a problem and Mr Li recognises this. He wants to create a team of children that will progress up the ranks. His son is 17 and he sees him as a role model.
“Ultimately, the plan is that Hydes will supply them with horses that are suitable for children and can instil confidence. The Irish horse is very, very slowly developing a name here, but there are a massive number of German and Dutch horses and all the top Chinese riders speak Dutch and German, as that is where they go to learn to ride,” says Morrison, who recently won a 1.20mtr class in the Chengdu leg of the Longines China Tour, noting that it was on a Dutch-bred five-year-old and that, while Mr Li has Irish horses, none are for competition.
“I’ve been travelling on the China Tour. The show venues are amazing. The effort they make is huge for just one weekend and there might only be 80-90 riders. Shanghai show was nothing like I’ve ever seen and a lot of top European riders are flown over to raise the profile of the sport.”
In May, the Irish ambassador to China hailed as an “important step” the arrival of the first Irish sport horses under a ground-breaking export protocol signed the previous July that allowed pre-export quarantine in Ireland. The consignment of two show jumping horses and four ponies was put together by Michael O’Hagan. He noted in this newspaper two important requirements in opening up the Chinese market: “Patience and more patience.”
“They pay top money for horses, but often lack professional stable management expertise. Building from grassroots is key and Irish horses and expertise could prove attractive to the Chinese in that regard. I think it will be a massive market, but it will take at least five to 10 years. In the meantime, we have to build relationships and trust, which, hopefully, is something I can help progress.”
Morrison returns to Ireland in January and, while he does not foresee a more permanent residency in China, he says he would “love to return”.
As such, he is looking forward to getting back to Clonakilty, not least because of a couple of equine additions to his string.
“I am being very well looked after here and it has been a really good experience, but, I’ve got two seven-year-old eventing horses — Milchem JJ and Kalico, both owned by Vinnie — at home, one of which I hope will get me to the World Breeding Championships. So I am looking forward to getting back to Ireland.”