AQHA Takes on the World’s Biggest Country
When most people think of the American Quarter Horse, they picture big beautiful horses grazing in fields of horse-heavy states like Texas, Oklahoma, and Ohio. People think of the major Association horse shows held yearly, the competitive nature, and the warm, and welcoming community, all mostly held within the United States. While AQHA has nothing short of a huge presence in the U.S., the Association knows no boundaries when it comes to spreading the brand most of us have come to know and love.
Bennie Sargent, an AQHA Professional Horseman from Kentucky, has become one of the leaders of the promotion of AQHA in China. A long time member of the American Quarter Horse Association and 2006 AQHA Horseman of the Year, Bennie, along with a few others, plays a large part in bringing the AQHA brand to China. Alongside David Snodgrass, Bennie has taken a huge involvement in instructing the people of China about the American Quarter Horse, including riding and showing the horses.
Bennie and David’s (pictured left to right) involvement with AQHA China began about seven years ago. David was employed by, and working for the state of Kentucky in an office the state kept in Beijing, China, where David worked and lived for a long period of his life. This office is kept overseas to help promote trade of auto parts, and other products between Kentucky and China.
A few Chinese people who wanted to purchase horses from the United States approached David, who immediately sent an email to multiple recognized horse associations in Kentucky, not just AQHA affiliates. Bennie’s wife, Cheryllee Sargent, who at the time was the President of the Kentucky Quarter Horse Association, was the only person to respond, and the rest was history. Bennie described the start of his involvement as “pure luck.”
Bennie explained that right now, AQHA China is really in its infancy, and doesn’t really resemble the AQHA we know here in the United States quite yet. However, a large part of the promotion of AQHA in China comes from a friend of David’s, a Chinese man named AnTao. AnTao became a part of the movement of AQHA in China about three years ago, and like Bennie and David, is passionate about riding, and the American Quarter Horse. In 2012, with the help of Snodgrass and Sargent, AnTao became the first Chinese exhibitor to compete at the AQHA World Show in Oklahoma City. Currently acting as the headquarters for AQHA China is Unbridled Ranch, a small farm located an hour northwest of Beijing, and operated by David and AnTao.
Bennie explained the pure and unparalleled interest the Chinese population has for horses. In Chinese culture, horses are not only a part of their Zodiac, but also a creature of Chinese mythology. To much of the population, a horse is something that they have never seen before. In 1949, the central Chinese government confiscated all horses for military use, and for a long period of time, people didn’t own horses privately. So, combined lack of exposure to horses, and an affinity for western cowboy culture, the Chinese are eager to increase their knowledge about the species.
Currently, barrel racing is the event with the biggest interest in China, but more events are very slowly being integrated into the AQHA China events. As a part of AQHA China, Bennie and David periodically send barrel trainers overseas to help teach the Chinese participants more about the class. These trainers stay for about a month at a time helping as many interested parties as they can.
The biggest challenge that Bennie faces with AQHA China is the most obvious: the language barrier. Bennie explained that he not only doesn’t know Chinese, but that there are also a handful of words typically used in equine lingo that don’t translate directly to Chinese. There is no word in Chinese for ‘saddlebred,’ and also no direct translation for the word ‘quarter.’ The latter being a bit more problematic for Bennie.
David however, has a bit of an upper hand when it comes to the Chinese language as he is fluent. David studied Chinese in college, and is married to Songzi, who has also been a huge part of the development of AQHA China and is native to China, which makes communicating in Chinese second-nature to David. AnTao is also a huge help to Bennie with regard to translating as well.
Among his other duties, AnTao has also been slowly developing classes for AQHA China, which have similar aspects to AQHA classes here in the U.S., but are still entirely unique. One of the classes, entitled Ranch Riding, is a little bit like speed-trail: competitors and their horses must make it around a course similar to an AQHA trail course, but at the fastest speed possible, and competitors are only faulted if they knock an obstacle over completely.
Currently, the only class held at AQHA China events that is actually judged is called Cowboy Riding. In Cowboy Riding, horses and riders are asked to perform a pattern, and they are judged on how well they execute it. Initially, Cowboy Riding was developed for women, but with an increased interest in the class, AQHA China opened it up to males as well, and nearly doubled the class’s participants. With the development of more classes, the interest in riding and showing competitively is steadily increasing.
When AQHA China puts on an event, it isn’t necessarily its own horse show. As of right now, AQHA China holds a series of special event classes at trade shows and other big events in China. This draws continuing outside interest to AQHA and its presence in China. David and AnTao help run and operate between six and ten special equine events each year, and try hard to include AQHA events in as many of them as possible.
On his most recent trip to China in July of this year, Bennie was amazed at the sheer size of the event at which the AQHA classes were being held. More than 20,000 people flocked to Da Mao Qi, an area in inter Mongolia to see live entertainment, Mongolian ponies and camels perform, and of course, some AQHA sanctioned events. Clearly, there is no doubt that AQHA is getting quality exposure in China today.
Quality is Bennie’s biggest goal for AQHA China; if nothing else, he wants to be sure that anyone in China that gets involved in AQHA is getting nothing but the best from the AQHA brand. Whether that be riding instruction, advice on purchasing horses, running high-quality events, and most importantly, being a person that they can trust. “I think the interest and involvement is there,” said Bennie. “After being there many times, I want to see it develop from the grassroots up, and I want to see them become good horsemen.”
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