Back in the saddle again

Written and Translated by Lisa Chiu Photos provided by Hannover Equestrian Club

The first thing I noticed about Taipei when I moved here was how little space there was for people to live, play and have a good time. Then I learned about the Hannover Equestrian Club, a place for both recreational and professional horseback riding.

Located close to Shih-lin, near the Shih Pai station, the club is surrounded by a sea of rice paddies. My first trip there was a combination of excitement, excitement and more excitement. After 40 minutes of practical training, the reality of what I was doing kicked in.

To begin my training, I hopped on Laddi, an eight-year-old mare that seemed to have a lot of mileage on her already. Getting on a horse's back is the first thing a beginner needs to master, but I managed after the third try. The second challenge was trying to balance myself on the saddle. My coach told me that the trick is to put just one-third of each foot in the stirrups so that I would have better control of them. Then, I had to lean slightly forward, while holding my back straight.

In the midst of contorting myself into different positions, I had to reach out and grab the reins. Then I was told to hold my knees tightly against the sides of the horse, but not so hard that it would hurt the horse. After making the adjustments, the coach gave me some not so gentle reminders, "Your back! Keep your back straight and look ahead, not down."

After Laddi and I walked the track a few times I felt that we had become friends. Some people say that riding a horse is like riding a bicycle. In many ways they are similar, but riding a horse is definitely more complicated. For one thing, when you turn the handlebars of a bike, it goes in the direction you intended. But, with Laddi, when I pulled the reins to the right to move her in that direction, she jerked against the reins, which caused me to lose my balance for a split moment, and I almost fell off. I screamed in panic, which was not a good idea at all. It scared Laddi and she could have run away, with the rest of me dragging from the saddle.

Although my first visit to the stable left me aching all over, I felt great, like I had accomplished something. My coach told me that when I learned to coordinate and to communicate with my horse I could make her go wherever I wanted.

Most people in Taiwan think that horseback riding is an activity only for the rich. In fact, it is more expensive than many other recreational activities. For my first trip to the club, I spent NT$1,200 for a 40-minute course. However, Hannover General Manager Chan Min-chen, who cannot seem to say enough good things about horseback riding, stresses that the overall benefits of the sport include getting into shape. From my experience, it was definitely a good workout.

Hannover is the largest equestrian club in Taiwan. When the club started, it was only a small place with a few old horses. But, in 1998, Hsu An-chin, a local media tycoon, fell in love with horseback riding after his first trip to the then-humble stable. Hsu's horse, Champion, the only stud in the stable that was trained in France, cost NT$10 million due to his prestigious pedigree. Both of his parents were champion horses. Hsu then invested in the club, renovating and expanding it.

"Horseback riding is the kind of sport you fall in love with and, once you are in love, you don't want to leave it," said Chan.
The club currently offers a special deal on membership fee--NT$168,000 for a three-year membership which includes unlimited riding during business hours. Lifetime memberships are also available for NT$880,000, which includes one horse.

-Hannover Equestrian Club
143-1, ChengDe Rd., section 7
Tel: (02) 2823-0952
Hours: 8 am-10 pm