US TREC Representatives Participate in The 2nd Annual Weifang Binhai International Equestrian Culture Festival.

By Kim Stoddard: President USNETO / TREC-USA

November 5, 2018 

The International Equestrian Culture Festival

The 2 Weifang Binhai International Equestrian Culture Festival was held October 1-3, 2018 at the Huanlehai Beach Resort, in the Weifang Binhai District, Shandong Province, China. The schedule included competitions in Endurance, the 2018 China TREC International Championship, Mounted Archery, Kite Flying on Horseback, and Horse Racing on the Beach, as well as numerous equestrian skill demonstrations ranging from Dressage to Mongolian horse wrangling, and a carnival of equestrian acts ongoing throughout the festival.

Presidents of FITE Member Nations were invited to participate in the 2018 World Equestrian Tourism Summit, and each country was permitted up to 2 riders to take part in the competition. Kim Stoddard and Tim Thomas represented USNETO / TREC-USA at this event.

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Festival Schedule at a Glance:

9/30: Arrivals, Registration. International TREC horses drawn.

10/1: 2018 World Equestrian Tourism Summit, Endurance Competition, Kite Flying on Horseback, Horse Racing on Beach, TREC Vet Check, Opening Ceremony

10/2: TREC POR – Orienteering Phase, Mounted Archery Competitions. Awards Ceremonies.

10/3: TREC PTV – Obstacle Course Walk, TREC MA – Control of Paces, TREC PTV – Obstacle Phase. Closing Ceremony & Awards

2018 China TREC International Championship

The 2018 China TREC International Championship, organized by the China Institute of Horse Culture & Sports & Tourism, was the second international TREC competition to be held in China since they became members of FITE (The Federation of International Equestrian Tourism) in 2017.

Thierry Maurouard, Technical Director of FITE, played a key role at the competition, both serving as TD and providing guidance and official technical training courses to the Chinese event organizers and judges prior to the event.

The competition was split into two divisions: Riders from China, and International Competitors. China had 46 entries riding in the event. The International division consisted of 17 riders representing Denmark, France, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, and Taiwan. Kim Stoddard and Tim Thomas from the United States served as international judges along with volunteers from the attending countries.

See “Notes From the Field” (Below) For Photos and Details…

2018 World Equestrian Tourism Summit

9:30-12:00 Binhai Urban Art Center Auditorium

Guests: Officials of the General Administration of Sport of China, Presidents of FITE NETOs, Presidents of Asian Equestrian Federation, Government officials and operation units from equestrian tourism destinations, representatives of rider and horse clubs in China.


Development and Standardization of World Equestrian Tourism

Thierry Maurouard: FITE Technical Delegate

Fusion and Development of Horse Culture, Sports and Tourism in China

Wu Gang Fang: Director of the China Institute of Horse Culture, Sports andTourism

Equestrian Tourism and NETO Activities in other FITE countries:

  • Britain: Sarah Leggat
  • Denmark: Tina Kofoed
  • Hong Kong: Justin Tseng
  • Ireland: Niamh ÓhUid
  • Netherlands: Ingrid Helmes
  • Russia: Gennadii Semin
  • Spain: Pedro Fernandez
  • Taiwan: Jer-Jeng Chiu
  • United States: Kim Stoddard

Establishment of the Asian Federation of Equestrian Tourism

Presentations were followed by a ceremonious signing of documents formalizing the creation of the Asian Federation of Equestrian Tourism. In addition, Weifang Binhai Resort was granted the label of Asian Equestrian Tourism Center.

About the Location

The festival was held on Sea Joy Beach – a large expanse of reconstructed coastline near the Yellow River Delta that is being developed by the Weifang Binhai Tourism Group as a major resort destination featuring luxury hotels, fine dining, vacation properties, yacht marina, arts center, sports events, and cultural festivals throughout the year.

Notes From The Field: Kim Stoddard Photos

September 29 – 30 Arrival

The Lobby at Hotel Dubai

We arrived at the Hotel Dubai in Weifang Binhai China by night (after 24 hours of travel plus a 3 hour bus ride) and had no bearing as to where we were or what to expect in the days to come. We only knew that the Hotel had a grand lobby (replete with mezzanine and a large round aquarium in the center) and was incomparable to any accommodations we had experienced at any other TREC event. It was the start of an unforgettable 8 days…

The first morning we went downstairs for breakfast – an extensive buffet including both Chinese and western options – and met up with travelers from other countries. Afterwards we got onto a bus across from the ultra-modern Urban Arts Center, and were introduced to our travelling companions including Justin Tseng (Competitor from Hong Kong) and his son James (a recent USC graduate living in Malaysia) who would help with translation, along with Mary Yi, Jessica Dong, and others from the China Institute of Horse Culture, Sports, and Tourism. We drove past the Weifang Eye (a 140m high ferris wheel), extensive salt flats, and vast areas of new construction, to the Visitor Center at the Weifang Binhai Beach Resort.

Excited to meet the horses, we walked past the Malaysia Pavilion, the bandstand, the main arena, and down the stone roadway to a large tent tucked in between amusement park rides and construction debris. And there they were, an assortment of horses and ponies of unfamiliar breeding, huddled two to a stall, and looking as bewildered and overwhelmed by the environment as we were. Names were drawn, tack was sorted from a pile of mismatched gear, and riders went out on the deep sandy beach for their first ride. It was anyone’s guess as to what the horses knew, and what cues they would respond to. Direct rein – no response. Leg cues – no. Neck rein – yes! Hands forward = go. Lean back = slow down. Flapping arms = go faster. Riders shared tips as they discovered things and while the horses did not know much, they seemed generally willing to try. They even braved the sea which we discovered they had never seen before, having just been shipped down from the countryside north of Beijing. Additional riders came after lunch and had much the same experience, and added notes to the tip sheet.

By then festival preparations were ramping up. Horses were arriving in all sorts of rigs – from closed box trucks to open sided farm vehicles. The beach was crowded with endurance riders, race horses, archers and performers in traditional gear. The wind was strong – kites and flags were flying and kite surfers were doing stunts in the air. Anything unsecured was sent flying down the beach at high speed. Music blared from loudspeakers. Families were enjoying the beach.

By the end of the day it became clear that in our group there were more riders than horses. There were too few saddles and not enough girths. One horse was too young. One needed shoes. We were told it would be sorted out the next day.

And then there was dinner – the first of many amazing meals – served at a round table with an glass lazy-susan that took up all but the outer edge of the table where you ate. This rotating centerpiece was filled and refilled throughout the meal with all sorts of amazing dishes to try. Vodka and chocolate brought by the Russian team was served, and many toasts were made by our wonderful hosts. Subsequent meals featured the round table set up but at smaller tables sometimes in separate rooms which gave us the opportunity to converse with people from the different countries (many thanks to multilingual James who put in a lot of “overtime”).

It went on like that for the next 3 days of the festival. We would get on the bus or sit down for a meal and Justin would say that he had nothing to tell us at that time but that everything would be taken care of and he would let us know as things came together. And things did – albeit at the last minute or often in an unexpected way. No matter – everyone was in it together and happy to go along for the ride.

October 1: 2018 World Equestrian Tourism Summit and Opening Ceremony

In the morning, international guests attended the 2018 World Equestrian Tourism Summit hosted by the Weifang Binhai Tourism Group. Presenters shared information about equestrian tourism and how it impacts economies in different parts of the world. Topics addressed included developing world standards for equestrian tourism, the cultural importance of the horse in China, and new ways to integrate equestrian sport, tourism, and culture, in the future. The meeting was emceed by a charismatic hostess who would later host the opening and closing ceremonies from horse back. Attendees wore headsets to hear live translation between French, English and Mandarin. It was still hard to follow. Most NETO presentations were given in English – and I enjoyed learning about different equestrian tourism activities in their countries and seeing pictures of TREC events in all sorts of terrain.

Mounted Archery Competition

In the afternoon, riders had time to work with their mounts (still sharing tack) and to watch some of the festival events which included an Endurance Competition, Kite Flying on Horseback, and Horse Racing on Beach. The TREC Vet Check was fit in behind the Endurance competition. TimThomas from the United States offered Violeta Fernandez from Spain the chance to try his horse as she was still without a suitable mount. In the end, she would ride this horse (a small Mongolian pony nicknamed Reggie) in the competition. The wind had died down somewhat and the weather remained fair.

Spectators and Beachgoers Enjoying the Festival

That evening, additional tack arrived moments before riders were to head to the opening ceremony held in the main arena which featured a massive jumbo-tron that showed live video feeds throughout the event. The ceremony included a carnival of equestrian acts and equestrian skills demonstrations, followed by the introduction of the international riders who had been waiting in the wings. At the last minute, flags were thrust at the riders who were told to gallop 3 times around the spot lit arena, make a smaller circle in the center, then line up in front of the stage. To no surprise – some of the ponies coped with this request better than others, and flags were carried by whichever horse would permit it – regardless of riders’ team.

October 2 – October 3: The 2018 China TREC International Championship

James – What is going on?

The morning of the POR started with a flurry of activity, as Chinese organizers assigned officials to the map room and judges to checkpoints. For those of us who do not speak Chinese – it felt like chaos – but eventually riders were sent on course and judges were put on a shuttle bus that would take us to our checkpoints (in that order). Being a judge at the finish line – I can verify that everyone in the international group completed the course – some in pairs or groups – but all with smiles on their faces. As we left for the day the PTV obstacle course was under construction on the beach.

Paola and Violeta (Team Spain) Completing the Orienteering Phase.
Amanti Mueller and Super Black talking with Tim Thomas at the POR Finish Line..

The following day began with the PTV course walk. The course included corridor in hand, low branches, ridden s-bend, slalom, gate, ridden corridor, steady in the saddle, log, rein-back, mount, hedge, water crossing (in the sea), log in hand, s-bend in hand, 1 handed figure 8, and a bridge. The course was fairly long – spread out along the length of the beach from the main arena to the tents – and the sand was very deep. It would require extra effort to make it through.

The Gate

The MA (control of paces) was held on a dirt track on the upper side of the roadway. There were varying degrees of control exhibited in this test – to no surprise. Some horses objected to leaving the others, some spooked at the flags marking the entrance to the corridor, some galloped full tilt, some wove all over, and some jigged on the return trip. Eveline (dressage rider from the Netherlands) stood out from the group with a nice collected canter. Most riders had a fine forward walk heading back towards home.

Back on the beach, we all watched the Chinese riders take on the PTV and cheered them in as they completed their rides.

As the afternoon waned the international riders prepared for their turn. It was to be a competition like no other – with all riders on unrefined horses that had never seen a TREC obstacle before. Would they get past the flags? Would they jump? Would they go near the gate? Would they stand still? Would it be dark?

The Trail Obstacle Course
The Trail Obstacle Course

As the sun started to set it became a priority to get all riders through the course before losing the light. And so the show began, with riders starting one behind the other resulting in several horses on course at the same time. It was both impressive and entertaining to see what they managed to achieve. The results varied – but all factors considered – everyone did a great job and the horses outperformed our expectations! All riders made it around the course, and the horses, to their credit, were mostly willing to give TREC a try. Everyone had smiles on when they came in. The sun had almost set when the last rider finished.

Immediately following, we were ushered to the Closing Ceremony and Awards. It was another Big Production in the Main Arena – Followed by another fabulous meal to celebrate the adventure!

Competition Results:

  • 1 Amanti Muller (FR)
  • 2 Ludovic Garnier (FR)
  • 3 Eveline Esser (NL)
  • 4 Sudo (China)
  • 5 Ingrid Helmes (NL)
  • 6 Maria Rasmussen (DK)
  • 7 Liz Davison (GB)
  • 8 Lisa Anderson (DK)

October 4 – Departures / Optional Site Seeing Tour Photos

In the morning, we said our good-byes to those participants starting the journey home. Those of us who had opted in for an additional 4 day tour began a new adventure with our hosts from the China Institute of Horse Culture, Sport and Tourism, and some of their friends and family. It was explained to us that this week was a week-long national holiday in China, and that we would be traveling some distance to avoid large crowds.

Yacht To Take Place

The activity for the first morning, described as a “boat ride” the evening before, turned out to be a tour of the harbor on a luxury yacht owned by the Weifang Binhai Tourism Group. The tour offered a view of the competition site from the water. Afterward we boarded the “Happy Bus” for a long journey to Shougang Qian’an, East of Beijing. That night we went to a small restaurant where we grilled food on braziers inset in the table tops.

October 5 – Great Wall at Baiyangyu Tourism Area

We were taken to visit an unreconstructed section of the Great Wall that had been built largely from marble, the indigenous stone of the area. It was a steep climb up to the Great Wall, positioned defensively on the ridge tops of the surrounding hills. We hiked along the length of it for about 3 hours enjoying spectacular views. After we were treated to an extravagant meal in the courtyard of the Defense Department – a reconstruction of the original headquarters built during the Ming Dynasty. We got back on the bus and travelled northward through mountains for many hours, arriving at our destination in southern Mongolia late at night. The accommodations were spartan compared to the previous nights – essentially an unheated 2 story motel with a common room off the kitchen where we were given a late night meal. While we were eating it started to snow. According to our phones we were near a town called Datanzhen in an area called the Bashang Grasslands.

October 6 – Horse Riding in Mongolia

My favorite day of the entire experience! It was a cold bright morning and snow dusted the grassy hillsides. Hogs lounged in the dirt courtyard. At breakfast we were told to bundle up for an all-day ride and to meet out back to pick our horses and tack for the day. We discovered that this was home for several of the horses (and the grooms) from the competition, and we would get to be reunited with them for an outing on their turf. We rode out in a group of about 20, up and over large rolling hills and along a valley of rich black farmland, fields fallow for the winter. There was little structure to the ride. Riders at the front charged ahead with a guide and the rest followed. Fortunately, the landscape offered long sight lines as we ended up spread out over quite some distance. We rode to a spot where we stopped for a long lunch then made the journey back over the same route at a somewhat more conservative pace.

We stayed the night in the same location, and were treated to local dishes including roast pig – hopefully not the same ones as were outside that morning.

October 7 – Beijing Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City

The final day of our tour took us back to Beijing. Leaving the higher altitude, the bus was freezing and desperation began to set in. Lucky for us all, we had a heavy equipment mechanic in the group (Tim) who knew how to fix the bus. We stopped roadside for lunch at an interesting dining destination complete with 1/2 size T-Rex, large Transformer sculptures made from scrap metal and chainsaws, and basketry smurfs. The food again was excellent.

We arrived at Tiananmen Square, decorated for the national holiday with a giant bouquet, late in the afternoon. We walked through the gardens of the Forbidden City and visited several buildings including the Moon Gate. We were guided by one of our company who is studying to be a professional tour guide.

Our last meal together was at a Beijing restaurant where we enjoyed cooking our own selections from an array of unusual choices around a large round table that had a hot pot installed at each place setting.

What an Adventure!

In all, it was an unexpected, exciting, and memorable adventure, shared with a fun and interesting group of horse people from different parts of the world all sharing a common interest in the sport of TREC. Our hosts did an excellent job planning the trip to avoid crowds, and maximize our adventure. We appreciated the opportunity we had to get to know them, enjoy their hospitality, and to see some of their amazing country on horseback! We talked about possible future riding tours in other parts of the country, and it was said in parting that they hope to invite representatives from various FITE countries to come again to compete.

Hopefully we will have the opportunity to offer such an adventure to TREC-USA members in the future!