Jack Huang’s journey into equestrian sports was not what you’d expect. The FEI’s Regional Group VIII chair from Taipei, Taiwan, who attended the Land Rover Horse of the Year in Hastings, is an accidental equestrian.
Jack’s father, once an active baseball and football player, suffered badly from a degenerative disease which affected his spine and saw him end up in a wheelchair. Not wanting to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, he took up horse riding for therapeutic purposes and young Jack went along as a volunteer. Jack’s father is now 82 years old, out of a wheelchair, off painkillers and playing golf. Jack went on to jump horses at national competition level in Taiwan and now his daughter rides as well.
So, what are the Regional Group VIII Chair’s impressions of equestrian sport in New Zealand?
“It’s amazing what you have here!” Jack said. “What strikes me about Horse of the Year is that it is in large part organised and run by volunteers, this is extraordinary. The atmosphere is fantastic, everyone is friendly and the competition is great.”
He said the competition level and the majority of riders in New Zealand are better than in Taiwan and in particular we are renowned for our dominance in Eventing.
“New Zealand has so much to offer: land, horses, good weather, training facilities. Your challenge is how to make that more accessible to the rest of Group VIII, especially with a focus on Eventing.”
Chinese Taipei Federation applied for and received a grant from the FEI to start developing Eventing in Taiwan, which at this point doesn’t have high quality facilities but these are improving.
“New Zealand has a lot to offer Chinese Taipei and other federations in Group VIII. You have high quality Eventing riders, trainers and horses. ‘Borrowed horse’ competitions in Taiwan, New Zealand and elsewhere in the region would expose Chinese Taipei and other Group VIII federation eventers to your high quality riders and horses.”
Jack is optimistic about the future potential in Group VIII; it may be the first time Group VIII will have a record number of nations qualifying for the 2020 Olympics.
“If this comes to pass, it will be a strong statement to the international equestrian community.”
The potential for New Zealand equestrian sport is definitely in our comparatively long history of competition and the quality of our sport horses.
“You are too humble about the horses you are breeding. You could improve the marketing of the great horses you have here. It’s what the Australians, the Germans, Ireland are all doing,” said Jack.
“The potential sport horse market in Asia, especially in China is huge. The number of sport horse clubs in China increased from 800 to 1,400 in one year. In the past three to four months there have been an additional 400 clubs open. The average stable there has a minimum of 10 horses and all the sport horses are imported.”
Another aspect of the sport Jack thinks we could improve on is valuing the spectator experience more.
“The wider fan base is really important. Generally, and this is not only in New Zealand. We need to continue to improve on reaching out to and generating a wider audience through publicity. The venue is really important in terms of making equestrian events accessible to the public.”