Irish sport horses destined for new China enterprise
Up to 500 Irish sport horses and ponies and 100 equestrian professionals are expected to be travelling to China in the coming years as an Irishman unveils plan for a new multi-million euro equestrian enterprise.
The Dongtan Chenyia Equestrian Centre outside Shanghai is the brainchild of Irish architect and Irish Draught breeder Jimmy Quinn and his wife Edel Burke Quinn, founders of Cappa Stud.
The pair, who first began devising a plan to trade horses between Ireland and China in 2013, are now the sole non-Chinese partners for the four-year project which is being funded by local investors.
Construction on the site is set to get underway in the spring.
The first-phase plans for the 600-ac facility include two Olympic-size arenas with seating for 15,000 spectators, stabling for up to 1,000 horses and ponies, a 250-ac cross-country course, and a fully-equipped equine veterinary laboratory.
The second phase will include a five-star hotel, villas, townhouses and apartments.
"There are 1.3 billion people in China and horse riding is the sixth most popular leisure activity with participation rising from 7pc to 15pc," Mr Quinn said.
"For the past two years the lucrative show jumping series, the Global Champions Tour, has been held at a temporary facility in Shanghai. We would like to see that change and have it eventually moved to this new equestrian centre, with a view to hosting other championships such as the World Equestrian Games. We eventually want to make Dongtan Chenyia Equestrian Centre the biggest and best of its kind in Asia."
As a New York-born Irishman, China is a long way from Quinn's roots in Galway, but the downturn in the economy was the catalyst that sent him looking for a new horse market.
"A few years ago my wife Edel and I went on a fact-finding mission to see how we could export not only our own horses from Cappa Stud but indeed all types of Irish leisure horses and ponies. We soon realised everything was pointing to China. After several weeks on the road visiting numerous cities we ended up in Shanghai and there we met a few local property developers. Some of the initial contacts had been made through a mutual business associate in Galway, Charlie Coughlan.
"Tommy Brennan had originally designed a cross-country course for the Olympics in 2008 but it was never built when the equestrian events were then moved to Hong Kong due to regulations on horses coming to and from China. Tommy's plans are still there and we fully intend to include them in the construction of this new cross-country course, in his memory."
Until 2013 a ban on the movement of horses between China and the rest of the world cut the country off, with Coolmore exporting 100 thoroughbreds after this was relaxed.
However, the ongoing ban on gambling in China has delayed the entire project, and progress has been slow.
Since 2013 a number of event horses and show jumpers have left these shores, and Red Mills now imports horse feed into the country, but Mr Quinn says there are opportunities there for Irish breeders.
"We believe the opportunities for Irish horse breeders and other businesses within the equestrian industry are enormous," he said. "I have been in contact with both Tiernan Gill and Barry O'Connor, both of whom are well respected in the sport horse industry, and together we intend to export up to 500 animals over the next number of years. This will include show jumpers, event horses and even Connemara ponies. We also want to set up a breeding operation. As part of the long-term plans we will be recruiting Irish professionals."
One of Ireland's main supporters of the project is Minister of State, Paul Kehoe, who said the ambition to boost the Irish economy by developing these strong links is a major step forward. "This is a really exciting project," he said.
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