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Boost for Jeju horse industryLocal economy expected to benefit as Jeju is designated a horse industry special zone
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승인 2014.02.03  16:43:01
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▲ A stampede of horse legs at a Jeju horse show, the likes of which are due to be boosted by Jeju’s designation as a Horse Industry Special Zone. Photo courtesy The Ma Park

Jeju has been designated a horse industry special zone by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. The decision was made on Jan. 2 in a move which will see the industry promoted by central government in line with Article 21, Paragraph 1 of the Horse Industry Promotion Act.

Officials claim the designation will create 300 new jobs and up to 720 billion won in direct and indirect economic benefits to Jeju, which beat off competition from Gangwon and other main-land provinces. The designation was a pledge of President Park Geun-hye during her 2012 election campaign.

MAFRA will provide 5.65 bil-lion won in 2014 as agriculturalists will be encouraged to diversify and provide more equine activities including: horseback riding facilities, horse training facilities, expert training centers, artificial fertilization centers, special horse farms, and more. Farmers must apply to the provincial government for such support.

Local officials are currently benchmarking international markets such as Hokkaido in Japan, Kentucky in the US and Newmarket in the UK, where production, training, manufacture and distribution have been successfully integrated. As a future growth engine, it will be a “senary” industry, spanning primary, secondary and tertiary industries. Toward that goal current plans include:

1) An increased government budget from 1 billion won (2013) to 5.65 billion (2014)

2) The construction of a horse training center and farm diversification for horse training and production (2014-2017, 9.9 billion).

3) The promotion of horse riding programs in rural areas and associated infra-structure (2014-2017, 3.4 billion).

4) A further 18.1 billion for elite horse racing, 42.6 billion for expanding horse-riding demand and 10.3 billion for the horsemeat industry.

5) Tax cuts for the horse industry.

In total, Jeju will invest 114.2 billion won in 35 businesses and there are expected to be 220 billion won direct and 500 billion won indirect economic benefits. Horse industry patrons for leisure are expected to double from 820 thousand (2012) to 1.6 million (2017) with an increase in horse-riding-related jobs from 180 to 300.

The designation is a nod to Jeju’s long equine history, enshrined in the Korean proverb, “A human should be sent to Hanyang and a horse to Jeju Island.” Hanyang (Seoul) was for the yangban, or gentlemen-scholars, while Jeju‘s green pastures were an idyll for horses. The literati, as the history of exile attests, were not so keen on the island.

Furthermore, a tradition of horsemeat remains on Jeju, it being a delicacy. King Sejong (1418-1450) tried to outlaw the meat across his kingdom, but on Jeju it remained, now one of “three black treasures” along with pork and beef. It is hailed as lean, high in protein, and contains one-third the fat of beef or pork and three times as much glycogen, energy stored in muscle cells.

While records detailing horse trading with Japan stretch back to 145 CE, it wasn’t until Mongol occupation in 1276 that horses became synonymous with Jeju. Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, sent 160 animals and vast swathes were given over to pasture. The distinctive Jorang breed (National Monument No. 347) resulted from interbreeding between native and Mongol animals.

Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) administrators continued the tradition and established a national pasture; even today 67 percent of Korean horses and 80 percent of race horses are Jeju-raised. In total, Jeju boasts 20 thousand horses, 50 horse-riding businesses and 45 restaurants. There is also the racetrack, one of only three in the country, and hundreds are thought to be employed in the industry, although exact figures are unavailable.

With such a large industry, there are already concerns about horse welfare and the effect of increased demand. Korea Animal Rights Advocates state that horse welfare has been a concern on Jeju, with cases of neglect being reported. A provincial official had no such concerns, stating that horses are allowed to run free on Jeju and are fed on a balanced, natural and nutrition-rich diet of grass and feed to ensure health.

Of further concern is the fact that monitoring will remain the sole responsibility of business owners, the rationale being that mistreated and injured animals will be bad for business. KARA state that the law needs to be strengthened in this area with independent monitoring.

Most islanders, however, are concentrating on the bright prospects for the industry and all connected to it. Lee Sun-ho of the JDC said that he looks forward to a time when Jeju can promote its unique relationship with the horse on the “mystical and picturesque plains and meadows of Asia.”

While these mystical and picturesque plains have not always been appreciated by all, the horses are finally letting out their centuries-old secret.

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