They’ll eat anything in China. But apparently the people of Beijing will be holding off on the horse, at least until a bunch of top European show jumpers have done their best (or worst) on borrowed equines in the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium during the fabulously important sounding Longines Beijing Equestrian Masters, set to take China’s first city by storm in late April. A curious looking press release (no logos, no contact numbers, and certainly no info on how to actually attend the event) was sent out by Niels Knippertz, who is better known for his CHIO Aachen press duties. This secretive-looking email went out to his distribution list (which was presumably borrowed from his Aachen lists, since I never signed up for any Beijing Masters news) this week, the headline of which announced the participation of the current number one ranked rider, Christian Ahlmann, in the festivities of Beijing.
A word of advice for Mr Knippertz: you might want to avoid the slip you made in your press release when you called Beijing by the former name imposed on it from outside, Peking. According to a recent Economist article, you aren’t making any new Chinese friends with that kind of sloppy nomenclature.
But back to the incredibly awesome Longines Beijing Masters itself. I wanted to give you a link to the press release, but the competition’s website appears to have nothing but a front page with some photos on it and text in Chinese. The reason I wanted you to be able to see it is because there are a couple of interesting omissions. The first is that, in spite of the fact that this event is both an FEI CSI2* and sponsored by the FEI’s brand-spanking-new Top Partner, the FEI is mentioned nowhere at all in the press release. Tsk tsk.
Even more remarkable is the failure of the press release to convey the fact that the Beijing Masters will take place on borrowed horses. The only reason I know about this major detail is because China has quarantine and disease-control issues that render every horse’s visit to mainland China a one-way trip. That’s why the equestrian events were held in Hong Kong at the 2008 Olympics. I emailed Herr Knippertz to ask how the Chinese quarantine issues were being resolved. His reply was accompanied by a silent snort of derision:
“Dear Karen, the answer is simple: The riders will start on „borrowed horses“.” Well, if it’s so simple, why didn’t you say so in your press release? Hm? Could it be that the image of some of the world’s most successful show jumpers attempting to ride off-the-track Thoroughbreds over a course (of what, 1.1 m?) might suggest to the world that this event could be quite a rich visual feast, but for all the wrong reasons? I personally would pay money to see Ludger Beerbaum on a 15.3 hand lunatic that spent five years racing before retiring to its new (and probably short-term) career as a show jumper. How much are they paying Nick Skelton to make an appearance in the Bird’s Nest, I wonder? Good thing Longines is along for the ride, because I’m sure Nick doesn’t come cheap.
For those of you who think I’m taking a dump on China for wanting to raise elite equestrian sport in its population’s esteem, I am. I have no time for the delusions of horsey grandeur in a country that permanently reigns at the top of human rights violation lists. Besides, no one but the very, very rich in China would ever dream of owning a horse for a purpose other than putting food on the table, whether that’s pulling a plough or going into a stew. Let’s be honest here. They eat horses in China. And dogs. And birds’ nests.