Horse endurance racing, anyone?
By Wong Yee Fong | Posted: 31 December 2010 1336 hrs
BEIJING: Horse endurance races are a tradition in some parts of China.
One particularly gruelling one takes place this time of the year when temperatures dip below zero.
More than 100 riders charge ahead to compete in one of the most challenging endurance races in China.
The task of the 115 riders is to ride across Beijing and Hebei Province along the scenic route of Guanting Reservoir.
The sub-zero temperature is considered ideal for the horses' well-being, but it's hard on the riders.
Endurance races for horses can be likened to the marathon races.
In horse endurance races, riders and their horses have to complete 100km in 9.5 hours.
The welfare of horses is of utmost importance. Riders must ensure that their horses maintain a stable heart rate and that they are not exhausted or dehydrated.
There's no horsing around when it comes to protecting the animals.
Riders are not allowed to use whips or spurs.
And the horses are put through health checks a day before the race.
Veterinarian Cheng Xin said "The ideal heart rate is between 48 and 60. Safety comes first and riders should slow down if their horses are sweating profusely to prevent them from falling ill".
Riders come from places like Inner Mongolia and Guangzhou.
One said: "I've never ridden such a long distance but I should be able to handle it".
Another rider said: "We shouldn't rush at the beginning but take it slow".
Some riders use covers to protect their horses from the cold.
A group from Guangzhou also spent five days acclimatising, before the race.
Vets check on the horses at every quarter mark to ensure they cool down and replenish their fluids.
But some of the animals still succumb to the rigours of the race.
Some drop out from injuries such as a torn muscle.
The organiser hopes to modernise the equestrian sport which has long been a part of the culture of many ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region and Tibet, as well as neighbouring Mongolia.
Chinese Equestrian Association's official Website founder Wutzala said: "We want to introduce standards set by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports to China.
"This is to increase awareness of the importance of caring for the horses as many horses were injured or died of exhaustion in traditional endurance races".
Only 30 per cent of the competitors complete the race.