▲ Staff members at Seokwang Horse Riding Center astride their mounts. Photo courtesy Seokwang Horse Riding Center
Scenes of horses running free or grazing on the sides of Mount Halla is so much a part of the Jeju scenery that it even has its own word in Korean. The term Gosumokma refers to the sight of horses in the vast green pastures on the slopes of Halla. For many visitors to the island, a Jeju holiday may be the first or only chance they get to have a close encounter with the graceful animals. Horse-back riding is, in fact, one of the experience activities listed in almost every tourist guide to Jeju Island and provides a perfect photo opportunity for vacationers to take away with their memories.
With this in mind, my colleague Angela and I arranged to visit the Seokwang Horse Riding Center in Seogwipo, situated just around a corner from the O’Sulloc Tea Muse-um. Despite damp and drizzly weather conditions, we were welcomed warmly by Han Ae Jung, wife of the owner, Kim Kyung Tae. She told us the riding center opened 16 years ago in April.
“I used to work at Yeomiji [Botanical] Garden and saw these types of horse places in the east, but they didn’t have anything in the west,” she said. “So I thought it would be a good idea to build a new one here.” At the time the center was the first of its kind between Hallim Park and Sanbangsan, although there are now many more such stables on the island. Seokwang averages about 100 customers a day and Han said children particularly enjoy riding in the winter. Most of the clientele are individual travelers, although the business is included on a few package tours.
Han said the center has about 80 horses, which include mixed-breed horses known as Halla horses, or Jejusanma, the short, stocky Jeju breed called Jorangmal and race horses that the center breeds for sale. It being spring, there were many foals playing in the pastures while never straying far from their dams on the day we visited. A family group was leaving as we arrived and despite the wet weather, a young girl with them told us, with a huge grin, how much fun she’d had riding.
Not that many of the customers get to actually ride their steeds as the majority of clients are led around the course by one of the center’s grooms. “For most customers, it’s their first time on a horse,” Han said. “It’s mostly tourists.” Experienced riders do get the option of riding the horse them-selves, with just guidance from the stable staff.
Clients can choose from four options to explore the 10,000 -pyeong (3.3-hectare) property – a 300-meter course or 500-meter, 700-meter and 1-kilometer courses, each of the latter three which include a trot around a small, race-style track. We chose the 700-meter course, but were first outfitted in fringed leather vests (complete with Sheriff’s badges) and battered leather cowboy hats. Shelves of riding boots also lined one wall of the center’s reception building with a sign above them indicating that they belonged to the Tamna University horse riding club. Two horses were led out and thus attired, we saddled up and proceeded to be led around the property, followed by a circuit of the track with our groom running between our two horses pulling them by the bridle.
Having been to riding stables in Western countries, being led around on the back of a horse felt more like a carnival experience than riding, but the majority of Koreans are unfamiliar with any large animal and few have any familiarity with horses. For them, and they are the majority of the center’s clientele, it offers a safe and reasonably non-intimidating taste of Jeju’s outdoor life. And even for the more jaded Westerner like myself, there’s still something magical about viewing the island scenery from horseback, particularly when you get to watch the antics of young foals at play.
Seokwang Horse Riding Center San 51, Seokwang-ri, Anduk-myeon, Seogwipo-si Tel. 064-794-5220 Web site. www.jejuseogwang.com (Korean only)
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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