Hanoians’ interest in horse riding gets trotting

By Quynh Nguyen   December 2, 2021 | 09:38 pm PT
Horse-riding has become an increasingly popular sport in Hanoi and many families are enrolling their children in equestrian clubs.

Anh Tho, 42, a resident of Cau Giay District, always imagined horse riding as an adventure sport for adults.

That misconception was laid to rest when she took her ten-year-old daughter Quynh Anh to a picnic with a group of students in her violin club earlier this month.

She was surprised that nearly 20 children and their parents were meeting on the campus of a horse-riding club in Hoai Duc District. Not only could they play instruments, most of the children in the group knew how to ride a horse.

Five children demonstrate their skills at a horse riding club in Hanoi on Nov. 18, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Children ride horses at an equestrian club in Hanoi, Nov. 18, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

As Tho watched, many children aged 10-15 donned helmets and other protective gear. Then they climbed on to the saddle without assistance. In less than a minute, all of them had hopped on their horses and trotted off.

"I thought horseback riding was only for adults," said Tho, also surprised to hear that horse-riding had been in vogue in Hanoi for years.

The equestrian sport, which originated in Europe, does not just involve riding horses as is done in horse races, as many people imagine. Equestrians learn how to control horses to move with precise and flexible movements at the rider's command.

While the sport was seen in Vietnam as early as 1932, it went into oblivion after 1942. It was only in 2010 that a few equestrian clubs were established in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Nguyen Thi Hoa Hop, 48, manager of the club in Hoai Duc District, said it was established more than 10 years ago. At first, members were mainly foreigners or international students, but a few years later, locals began taking an interest and its popularity grew.

In fact, after the easing of pandemic-related restrictions, a growing number of parents have been enrolling their children for horse riding lessons, Hop said.

Nguyen Minh Nguyet of Hoang Mai District has enrolled her son Pham Bach, 13, to learn horse riding after seeing the teaching manual and witnessing a training demo lesson.

Pham Bach rides a white horse. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Pham Bach, 13, rides a white horse at an equestrian club in Hanoi’s Hoai Duc District. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Bach used to play basketball, football and swim. But it was when he began riding a horse that he showed particular passion, Nguyet said.

She said Bach has become agile and begun more showing more affection for animals after attending the course.

Good for the brain

Research by the Tokyo University of Agriculture, published in the journal Frontiers In Public Health in 2017, found that horse riding benefits the brain, helps improve cognitive ability in children, as also enhance intelligence and memory.

To be able to ride horses proficiently, each student must undergo a one-on-one course with 12 sessions of 30-45 minutes each. Each course costs VND6 million (around $264).

Students are taught how to control the horse to walk around, overcome obstacles, run long distances, gallop, ride horses uphill and other skills. For children, additional support staff are on hand, in addition to the trainer.

Nguyet's family also pays an annual membership free of VND8-10 million. It was "expensive but worth it," seeing Bach forging ahead with perseverance and confidently overcoming challenges.

Currently, Hop's club has nearly 30 imported horses and four trainers serving more than 100 learners aged 7 to over 60. The number of young students is just over 25 percent.

Bui Thanh Hai, 26, a trainer with nearly 10 years of experience, said that even amid the ongoing outbreak, his teaching schedule was l full. On weekends and holidays, the number of visitors to the club increases sharply, he said.

Unlike adults, teaching young children to ride horses requires higher skills.

Young riders will first learn how to feed, stroke and walk a horse around the yard to get acquainted with the animal first. Then the trainer instructs them how to check the reins, how to get on the horse and how to sit properly in the saddle. While the staff lead the horses around the yard, the trainees perform hand rotation, shoulder rotation, head, neck, back and hip flexibility on the horse's back as instructed.

"During the practice, there may still be situations where students fall down, but we always equip students with knowledge on how to encounter this and similar problems," Hai said.

Quynh Anh tries her first horse-riding demo class. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Quynh Anh has her first horse-riding demo class. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

After the stay-at-home order was lifted in Hanoi, Le Minh of Hoai Duc District enrolled his two children aged 10 and 7 years old at a cost of nearly VND30 million.

Before attending the course, Minh Khue, 7, was quite shy. But after completing it, she has become more confident.

"Now I don't need the help of a trainer to hop on and control a horse," she said.

After the picnic, Tho also plans to enrol her daughter in an equestrian course after the girl tried the demo class and said she likes it. Tho now wants to enroll her 15-year-old son as well.

She said: "I don't mind spending on a sport that my kids like and yield many health benefits."

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