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Officials put the cart before the horseProvincial attempts to strengthen horse industry need to start with heritage
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승인 2013.10.31  14:49:49
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▲ Some of the images from the 9th Jeju Horse Festival. Photos by Kim Seonyoung

Jeju traditionally had no wild beasts such as the tigers once common on the mainland. It did, however, have hundreds of grassy oreum perfect for rearing horses. A saying common to this day reflects this: “Send a man to Seoul when he was born and send a horse to Jeju when it was born.”

It has been that way since the Mongols invaded Jeju during the Goryeo period and selected Jeju as one of their 14 large horse ranches in the world. That was when Jeju’s horse industry was born.

At that time, Mongolia was the regional hegemon, feared for its horse-mounted warriors. Jeju produced large numbers of these superior horses over the next 100 years. However, the horses, which the Jeju people put their resources into rearing, were sent as tribute abroad and the Jeju people suffered greatly. As the Joseon Dynasty was established, Jeju’s horse industry began to decline.

In order to revitalize this rich heritage, the national government wants to create a horse industry special zone on Jeju and support horse-related history, traditions and horse-riding facilities.

In line with this goal, between Oct. 11 and 13, the 9th Jeju Horse Festival was hosted by Jeju Korea Racing Associ-ation at Jeju Horse Racing Track. Jeju KRA leads the horse industry and pays 15 percent of its revenue to Jeju Special Self-Governing Province as tax, among the highest in the province.

The festival was well organized with various events for families with children, such as feeding and stroking the horses. More than 20 social enterprises in Jeju joined the festival and a variety of events were offered by organizers, including traditional performances and lotteries. The park was filled with chatter and laughter and was as peaceful as can be.

However, I felt something was lacking. Many events shallowly appealed to visitors, such as the pony beauty contest or riding on horseback. To be Jeju’s representative festival, there should be more meaningful programs which teach about Jeju’s history and culture so that visitors can understand the equine heritage of the island.

Even though the branding of Hallama, the traditional Jeju horse, is central to the Jeju horse industry there has not been much effort to revitalize it. While the horses gallop around the track to cheering crowds, the Hallama in the park look to have lost much of their identity.

Jeju Island is the home of a rich horse culture and history. In order to develop the horse industry further it is essential for people to know it at a deeper level, which should happen alongside the building of horse-related infrastructure. If the horse festival is to truly be Jeju’s representative festival, it needs to reach out much more to the Jeju people of both the past and present.

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