Germany’s strong ties to China go beyond the world of business. For years, Ludger Beerbaum and the German Equestrian Federation have been working to develop equestrian sports in China.It all started in July 2001, when China secured the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Suddenly a country with no tradition in the classic disciplines of jumping, dressage and eventing was faced with the task of organizing equestrian competitions at the highest level. Olympic organizers in Beijing turned to Germany for help.
World-class German rider Ludger Beerbaum was asked to help set up a Chinese show-jumping team for the Olympic equestrian events, which were eventually relocated to Hong Kong due to overly complicated quarantine regulations in China. The Chinese also requested the assistance of Germany’s Equestrian Federation (FN).
“Sönke Lauterbach, who is now the general secretary of the FN, and I were asked to help during the Olympics and also afterwards,” Sasha Eckjans, then the chief executive of the German Organization for Therapeutic Riding (DKTHR), told DW.
He and Lauterbach assisted the Chinese with the organization, and Eckjans, now 47, received an additional task: “I became the team manager of the Hong Kong jumping team for the Olympics and the following year.”
Eckjans spent a total of three years in Hong Kong, working at the “executive manager equestrian affairs” for the renamed Hong Kong Jockey Club. While in this post, he was in constant contact with stables across the mainland.
German equestrian long absent in China
When Eckjans returned to Germany in 2011, it was clear to him that the FN’s commitment to Chinese equestrian sports should continue.
“The FN and I decided that we needed to oversee the development of equestrian sports in China,” Ekjans said. “Germany did not have a presence in China at the time. Many other equestrian nations were represented there for many years or even decades, but Germany wasn’t.”
This has now changed. In 2012, the FN founded Equestrian Globe, is the official representative of the FN in China. It has since established itself as the leading service provider for all things equestrian in China.
“In addition to operating as an agency for trainers and horses, we also offer the German training system in the form of courses,” Eckjans said. “There are many riders or riding enthusiasts, young people who would like to hang a German certificate or badge on their wall as an award.”
Equestrian Globe also advises the Chinese on the construction of riding facilities and runs the German pavilion at the annual China Horse Fair in Beijing. This is in addition to the training of coaches.
“We were the first to train Chinese coaches in China. We also look after Chinese delegations that visit Germany,” Eckjans said.
Equestian Globe has also organized tournaments, helped with film productions and gone on tour with the horse musical “Troy.”
Beerbaum: ‘Fundamentals are missing’
Beerbaum remains active in China. He is one of the organizers of the Beijing Masters, an international equestrian event held each of the last seven years in the “Birds Nest” — the Beijing National Stadium which was the Olympic stadium in 2008. He is also part owner of a riding club on the outskirts of the Chinese capital and operates an equestrian academy.
“Over the years we have observed a growing enthusiasm for equestrian sports, but that the fundamentals aren’t really there,” Beerbaum told DW. “How do I hold a horse? How do I train it? How do I feed a horse? How do I look after it? These kind of things are taught at the academy.
The four-time Olympic champion can be booked as an instructor at the academy the teacher. But it also there are also courses for show jumping and blacksmiths.
“We aim to provide the whole range,” Beerbaum said.
Developing country with big potential
China has improved in equestion sports in recent years but are still far from world class.
Eckjans said that while there is currently “a group of 40 or 50 riders who can jump neatly over barriers that are 1.45-1.5 meters (4.5-5 feet) high,” there is still not a broad enough base to produce the really top riders to send to international events. This is something that Equestrian Globe is working on changing.
“China is a developing country in equestrian sports, unlike Japan or Korea, who have already successfully participated in Olympic Games,” Beerbaum said.
“With the possibilities that they have,if they commit themselves fully to it and if the equestrian industry establishes itself in the country, then it will only be a matter of time before they will be internationally competitive.”