Horse mania in Hong Kong (PRC)

New York Times | August 10, 2008

HONG KONG may be ambivalent about the Olympics-related nationalism sweeping mainland China, but there is no lack of promotion for the equestrian events being held in the city. Images of gleaming purebreds and riders done up in hats, tails and breeches reminiscent of the British colonialists who once ruled Hong Kong have been used on billboards and in magazines to sell everything from watches to real estate. There haven’t been many of those “I Love China” T-shirts popular on the mainland, though knee-high riding boots are in vogue, despite the 90-degree heat.

Still, equestrian competition is not exactly the best-known spectator sport in Hong Kong, and there have been some attempts at education. Local radio stations have been featuring daily equestrian terms (How do you say “extended trot” in Cantonese?). And on its Web site (, the South China Morning Post has featured instructional videos on the basics of dressage, show jumping and cross-country. [We didn’t see it].

The Hong Kong Jockey Club is the host of the events, which will be held at the club’s immaculate racetrack and other facilities in Sha Tin (about eight miles from the central business district), with the exception of an “eventing”/cross-country contest to be held at a country club at the nearby Beas River.

The racetrack in Sha Tin near Hong Kong will be one of the Olympic equestrian sites. Photograph Timothy O’Rourke for The New York Times
The racetrack in Sha Tin near Hong Kong will be one of the Olympic equestrian sites. Photograph Timothy O’Rourke for The New York Times

In all, about 200 horses from 42 nations are competing in 15 events, a fraction of what will go on in Beijing. Most of the events, which started yesterday and run through Aug. 21, are being held in the evening, with a few in the early morning, so it won’t be too hot for the horses. The Transport Department is advising spectators to take the efficient MTR subway directly from TST East Station to University (for the Sha Tin events) or Fan Ling (for the Beas River event). From there, shuttle buses will take them to the Olympics sites.

Hong Kong is not banning demonstrators, restricting visas or implementing antiterrorism controls with the same ferocity as on the mainland. But Tibetan flags have been banned, which caused concern among rights groups, as were umbrellas, which caused only head-scratching.

Beyond the commercial drumbeat, there have been several Games-related projects, including the opening of the 3.5-mile Olympic Nature Trail from Pak Mong to Mui Wo, which snakes through ancient villages on Lantau Island.

Also related to the Olympics is the Hong Kong Museum of History’s “Heavenly Horse” exhibition (100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui East; 852-2724-9042;, which takes a look at Chinese equestrian history, with a terra-cotta warrior from 221 to 206 B.C. seen more closely than some of his comrades in Xian, with his battle horse wearing an early soft saddle with triple girth. The Jin Dynasty (A.D. 265 to 420) honor guard with its 14 mounts is dignified, and the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618 to 907) ladies playing polo are charming.

Article from the Travel Section of the (c) New York Times.

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