There is a saying in Korea, “Send people to the mainland and horses to Jeju.” The island may have been short on horses at one time, but not anymore.
Jeju horses, also known as “Jejuma,” or “Gwahama” meaning “short enough to go under fruit trees,” are known as the symbol of Jeju island. Jeju horses are distinctively shaped, with shorter front legs and a long body. They are slightly taller than Shetland ponies.
Their diminutive stature is a result of their heritage. During the thirteenth century Jeju was ruled by the Mongols who brought about 160 of their own short, stocky horses to the island. These horses were bred with the native horses resulting in the Jeju horse of today.
Horse breeding became a major industry on Jeju for the next couple of centuries and the number reached up to 20,000. However, with limited usage, the number gradually plunged to 2,500 by 1980. It was at this time that the government, as a part of the effort to preserve the Jejuma after recognizing its value, gave them National Monument status. Efforts to seek potential industrial usage of this National Monument surged following the designation.
Jeju Racecourse Park welcomes families As part of efforts to preserve the Jeju horse, the KRA – Korea Racing Association constructed the 180 acre Jeju Racecourse south of Jeju‐si and in Oct. 1990, launched the racecourse for Jejuma racing. The park can hold up to 3,000 people and native Jeju horses registered with the Jeju Racecourse are all pure domestic. You can watch the races from the edge of the track or there is a section of the indoor spectator area designated for foreigners, who are able to bet on the horses in a way that Koreans cannot.
Many Koreans make a day at the races a family affair. It’s not unusual to see families with meals spread out on picnic blankets inside the spectator lounge.
The admission fee is 800 won per person. The racecourse is open every day except Monday. Hours are 12:25 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. March through Oct. and 12:20 p.m. to 4:50 p.m. Nov. through Feb. For more information call 064-741-9211~3.
Jeju horses not just for racing Jeju is possibly the only place in Korea where horse meat is consumed. While it’s not for everyone, and many westerners cringe at the thought of eating a domesticated animal, horse meat dishes used to be served to the king, as they were considered one of the finest of delicacies. The taste of horse meat is milder than beef, often described as something between beef and venison, and is enjoyed by gourmets for its tenderness and a hint of sweetness.
Horse meat is used in various types of Korean dishes such as mayukhoe (raw horse meat), machobap, tangsuyuk, glabijjim, seanggui, bulgogi. The meat is also lower in fat and cholesterol than most other types of meat. Plus, the fat from horse meat is an unsaturated fatty acid, which is good for preventing adult diseases, improving pancreatic function, and protecting the skin.
If you want to try this Jeju delicacy, look for the restaurants with posters of horses grazing in pastures, or large statues of happy cartoon horses out front. But if eating horse does not appeal to you, better to enjoy a day at the races than an evening at a horse restaurant.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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