It was already May, and snow had melted away around a village at the foot of the Qilian Mountains in northwest China’s Gansu Province. Horses were seen feasting on new grasses. For Hu Wanliang, a local herdsman, another season of hope had just unfolded.
Having created wealth for himself and the whole neighborhood in Zhoujiayao Village of Tianzhu Tibetan Autonomous County, Hu is considered a latter-day Bo Le, who was a legendary scout of fine horses. People would say, whereas swift horses are common, people like Bo Le are few and far between. Hu is one of this rare breed.
Back in 1988, Hu first acquainted himself with the equine industry, but there was no sudden fortune to be made. “I used to be poor and went without meals at times,” he said with a sigh. “With only one horse or two kept by the family, there was no way we could sell them. Nor could they be sold for a nice price.”
Since 2012, Tianzhu has been propping up its animal husbandry. The county was a courier station of significance along the ancient Silk Road, featuring flat terrain, fertile soil, abundant water and lush grasslands.
Owing to such an environment, a breed of horses called Chakouyi has long lived there. As Tianzhu began to tap into these advantages, Hu seized the opportunity.
Supported by the local government, he raised 800,000 yuan (about 112,500 U.S. dollars), including a loan, to build up a stable. Though a tough decision at first, it turned out to be quite fruitful. With decades long experience in horse care, he found buyers even from afar. By 2012, there had been over 30 Chakouyi horses at the stable. This year, the number had more than doubled.
“A fine horse could be valued up to 40,000 yuan. It should not be a problem to sell seven or eight, or, at the very most, more than 50 of them in a year,” Hu said. With the bonanza, his family of six lived a better-off life. “We have built a new house. The loan was cleared. All is well.”
It is a promising way out of poverty, Hu found. Following his lead, more Bo Les participated and the equine industry in Tianzhu was united to a greater degree.
Today, there are three farms built for the preservation of the breed, employing more than 20 families. The county boasts over 5,000 Chakouyi horses, with which many local herdsmen have earned a fortune and broken the poverty cycle.
Since the Chakouyi horses look graceful when galloping, Hu has taken the industry a step further. “If the horses are truly of high value, people will know it,” he said. Every year, Tianzhu holds races, which attract tourists and are also a peak selling season. During the annual fair, sales of the horses of the village alone could be up to 1 million yuan.
Through these races, the Chakouyi horses have acquired a wide reputation as excellent racehorses. The county has also witnessed a boom in tourism. “Every year more than 10,000 tourists come here during the races,” Hu said. “It is a real eye-opener for us when we communicate with horse racing enthusiasts from outside the county, or even outside the province.”
This year, Hu plans to keep 100 more horses at his stable. Having spent most of his life on horseback, he is determined to tap these special bonds with horses, turning them into a key to an even brighter future for local development.
“I hope more tourists will become familiar with the history and culture of the Chakouyi horses,” he said. “Based on the races, I want to build an industrial park related to the Chakouyi horses to help herdsmen’s stories reach more people.”