Taking care of a mount in space-scarce HK is not horseplay

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 August, 2009, 12:00am

Horses have played vital roles throughout human history. They are now kept for leisure purposes in many countries and are mainly used in Hong Kong for racing and horse riding.

Keeping a horse requires an enormous amount of hard work and dedication. The effort and resources that are needed make looking after one a full-time hobby. Horses are not the easiest or cheapest animals to look after - they weigh more than 450 kilograms, they kick when angry and nicker when hungry, they need new shoes every four to eight weeks and they eat all day. However, these are minor inconveniences to those drawn towards these fiery animals.

The lack of space in Hong Kong makes it impossible to keep a horse in your backyard and, as animals known for their free-spirited disposition and fight-or-flight instinct, horses will most likely bite and kick if they are kept in an enclosed area. Therefore, a clean, bright and airy stable should be one of the vital elements to consider before deciding to keep a horse, says Nicky Loiterton, managing director of Clearwater Bay Equestrian and Education Centre (CEEC).

In addition to providing adequate living quarters for the animals, horse enthusiasts should also ask themselves if they have the time and energy for this hobby.

Horses need to exercise one hour a day, six days a week. Even with a reliable stable hand, the owner will still need to spend a minimum of 10 hours a week caring for the horse and cleaning the equipment.

Ms Loiterton says if you personally look after a horse you will spend a minimum of four hours a day per horse. 'And this is a 365-day a year hobby!'

The CEEC has 47 horses - 18 of which are privately owned - and the centre specialises in horse-riding lessons and teaches children how to feed, water, groom and exercise horses.

Rewarding them with treats is normally acceptable but Ms Loiterton warns that too much will spoil your horse and may cause it to occasionally bite or throw tantrums when you forget to bring treats. 'Some horses develop bad habits such as rocking their head back and forth or chewing the fixtures in their stables - these are deeply rooted bad habits that require experienced experts to solve. Habits such as these may never be broken so trying to reduce the severity is all you can do,' she says.

According to Jennifer Chang, Hong Kong's leading show jumper and second-highest ranked Southeast Asia League rider, alert, energetic, and healthy-looking shiny coats are the signs of a well-cared-for horse.

Chang, an equestrian since the age of three, says that a good diet, plenty of exercise and quality veterinary care are the most vital factors when looking after horses, but these factors are often overlooked. 'Horses that are kept in a stable are generally fed grain three times a day and will have roughage [hay] given to them at least as many times each day,' she says, adding that overfeeding a horse is just as bad as underfeeding it. Her two sports horses, Luxor and Luc Skywalker, are kept in top condition with vitamin- and mineral-equipped grains and supplements.

As a city well-known for its horse-racing culture, right of ownership is only allocated to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, its members, and its affiliated public and private riding schools, primarily due to the lack of space.

According to a club spokeswoman, there are no horse-breeding facilities in Hong Kong so horse enthusiasts have to be members of the organisation before they can buy their own racehorses overseas or one at the annual thoroughbred auctions organised by the club.

Owners can opt to return retiring horses to their place of origin or give them away to the club's approved riding schools in Hong Kong or overseas. These horses will then be reschooled for equestrian or leisure purposes.