All the king's horses

Updated: 2015-05-29 10:50

(China Daily USA)

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All the king's horses

An imported Ferghana horse is undergoing a 45-day quarantine at the border city of Horgos. Provided to China Daily

A new threat

The rains have returned this year, but a new threat has emerged.

"Many herdsmen illegally cultivate their pastures to grow rapeseed, because cash crops boost their incomes. They don't realize they're permanently damaging the grasslands," he said.

In a bid to maintain the natural environment, the Zhaosu government has actively spurned industrialization, and aims to develop the area via eco-tourism rather than manufacturing. It began to develop the sector two years ago.

Although annual household incomes hover around just 10,000 yuan ($1,600), the locals insist that they would rather live with poverty than pollution.

"Tourism can bring extra income to the Kazak herders and help them to realize the importance of preserving their culture," Bolatjon said.

The area's biggest draw is the Heavenly Horse International Tourism Festival. It attracted 8,000 visitors last year, and officials expect an extra 2,000 in June, when this year's event will be held.

"One thing is for sure - no matter how far modernization permeates their lives, the bond between Kazaks and horses will never be broken," Bolatjon said.

Nawubat Yibalat, winner of the race in Sarkuobu township's Kertuogan village, the place where Jiarken Xiadat was thrown from his horse, explained that whenever a fall involves a child, the parents always check on the horse first.

"They are family members," he said. "Kids can fend for themselves."

The 56-year-old, who is a member of the organizing committee for the races, has been training Ili racehorses for 11 years. He currently owns three racers, but has five others that are used for shepherding the family's flock of 100 sheep.

The local races are the core of Zhaosu's social life and a principal local industry, and Nawubat's success has led others to hire him to train their steeds. The town now has more than 100 trainers for 3,000 horses.