Horses of Iceland travelled further than ever before at the end of last month, to Hohhot in Inner Mongolia, Northern China, where project manager Jelena Ohm took part in the 2019 World Horse Culture Forum, 28th November to 1st December. At the forum, representatives of various breeds from 30 countries gathered to discuss Chinese horse culture and world horse civilization. “It was a great honour that the Icelandic horse was invited to be part of the forum,” says Jelena. She adds that horsemanship, especially leisure riding, is in rapid growth in China. At the same time, Chinese tourists are coming to Iceland in growing numbers, despite an overall downturn in tourism. “There was a 16% increase in the number of Chinese tourists this year, compared to the year prior,” states Jelena, concluding that this indicates that there are marketing opportunities for the Icelandic horse in China.
“The forum was primarily a platform for people to talk and network. This was the first time that someone was there to represent the Icelandic horse and there was no representative from Scandinavia,” says Jelena. At the event there were four different discussion forums. Jelena participated in a forum entitled “The integration of horse culture related tourism”. “People were very interested. I had 150 copies of our brochure in Chinese and they just disappeared!”
The World Horse Culture Forum was quite a prestigious event in China – it was featured in the evening news on state broadcaster CCTV. Two hundred journalists attended the forum, interviewing all participants. Videos from the forum were played on giant screens around Hohhot. The Chinese military performed at the opening ceremony, and a song, which had been written specifically for the occasion, was played.
Jelena Ohm with Jia Youling.
Jia Youling, president of the Chinese Horse Industry Association (CHIA), attended the forum and Jelena had the opportunity to talk with him at a private meeting. Jia Youling works at the Chinese ministry of agriculture, which highlights the importance of horses to the Chinese government. For example, CHIA has suggested that equine science be made an obligatory discipline at elementary schools. “I invited him to try our VR headset and he watched a ride with Icelandic horses under the northern lights and the Laufskálaréttir horse roundup. He loved the headset and wanted to buy it, but I gave it to him.” Jia Youling presented Jelena with a horse figurine to bring back home.
Hohhot is truly the cradle of world horse culture, for it from this region that Genghis Khan rode off with his army to conquer the world in the 13th century. “The Mongols were superior because they were the first to use stirrups,” explains Jelena. During her stay in Hohhot, she visited a museum on saddles and stirrups. The Chinese would like Hohhot to be recognised as he “Horse City of the World”.
Jelena was very pleased with the forum and grateful for the opportunity to get to know Chinese horse culture and to connect with representatives of other horse breeds from around the world. “I also discovered how far we in the Icelandic horse world have come in terms of a judging, education and breeding system. I felt very proud.” She also thought it was interesting to learn that in all of the countries represented at the forum, the horse industry is subsidised by the state to some extent, even in countries like France and Germany where equestrian sports like racing earn millions.
After the forum, Horses of Iceland received a statement from CHIA saying that the association is interested in sending a delegation to Iceland to learn more about Icelandic horse culture. Horses of Iceland has also made an analysis of the possible marketing opportunities in China. “It will be exciting to see whether there are future opportunities for the Icelandic horse in China,” Jelena concludes. The goal is for the World Horse Culture Forum to be held every other year.
Text: Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. Photos: Jelena Ohm and World Horse Culture Forum.