Racing start: Darley interns

As part of a groundbreaking international management training programme, young Chinese graduates are being offered the chance to travel the world and learn from the best and brightest in the thoroughbred industry. Vision meets the young interns determined to write a new chapter in the history of Chinese horsemanship

It is unlikely that Jack (Zhuang Jingqian) will ever forget the Year of the Dragon. The young man from Guangzhou, in Guang-dong province, China, had expected to end 2012 in a full-time position with Electrolux, applying his business-school knowledge to selling Swedish-made household appliances. Instead, he found himself in Dubai, face to face with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, who took time from his schedule to meet Jack and the other young Chinese trainees who represent the first intake of the Dubai International Thoroughbred Internship programme.

Given his passion for both thoroughbred breeding and the development of young minds, it should come as no surprise that HH Sheikh Mohammed takes a personal interest in the internship programme, which offers recent Chinese university graduates a 10-month, fully funded introduction to the world of thoroughbred breeding and racing. The initiative provides trainees with the chance to gain hands-on experience at one of five state-of-the-art thoroughbred horse facilities that comprise Darley, HH Sheikh Mohammed’s global breeding operation, so laying the foundations for the future development of China’s very own thoroughbred industry.

Growing popularity

China’s history of horsemanship dates back thousands of years: there is evidence of horses being used to pull chariots as far back as the Shang dynasty, around 1600BCE. However, participation in Western equestrian sports such as showjumping, dressage and polo has become a focus of Chinese horse breeders in only the past 20 years. At the same time, horse racing is growing in popularity in the wake of China’s 1997 reunification with Hong Kong, particularly as a hobby of the rich. An increasing number of wealthy Chinese are buying racehorses as four-legged status symbols.

“Rich people always have to find a way to spend money, but the horse industry can be for more than just the wealthy,” says Jack. “In the long term, China will be very competitive in the global thorough-bred market. We will use our experience in Hong Kong and Macau, and the industry will grow.”

Jack’s parents were shocked when he announced he wanted to apply for the Dubai internship, rather than go straight into the world of work. “They were very supportive and although they couldn’t understand quite what I was going to be doing, they believed in me and my choices,” he explains.

On the contrary, Jack and his peers have already gained much in the time they have spent with Darley. Having undertaken initial training in Beijing, the interns spent three months on site in either Australia, Britain, Ireland, Japan or the US, working in the stable yards and learning from the experts plying their trade at some of the world’s leading thoroughbred facilities.

When I speak to them they are in Dubai for a two-week training and interaction period based at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management. Their busy itinerary will see them spending time exploring the traditional Bastakiya area in Bur Dubai and visiting the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding where they will learn about Dubai’s important trading roots, as well as taking a tour of Jumeirah Mosque to widen their knowledge of local customs.

Invaluable experience

On graduation, it is anticipated that the interns will have gained a broad understanding of the global thoroughbred industry, international best practice in their area of specialisation, and improved English language skills, all of which will add value to China’s nascent thoroughbred industry.

“The horse industry is exclusive in China at the moment, but we need to encourage other people to participate, enjoy it and become involved,” says Fiona (Zheng Yi) from Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province. Having graduated with a degree in finance and marketing, Fiona worked for a milk producer in Christchurch, New Zealand, before the Darley opportunity arrived. She is now applying her talents to an entirely new industry at the Kelvinside stud farm in New South Wales, Australia, and hopes to return home with a new set of skills to add to her existing ones.

“Working with people at Darley, I am learning so much about its marketing and long-term strategic planning,” she says. “Darley’s object has always been to breed horses that would be successful on the track, and if they are successful they will become future broodmares or stallions. To make this happen, you need experienced people working at world-class facilities with very good horses. The Chinese horse industry can import good horses and build world-class facilities, so experienced people will be the key element.”

It was with a view to gaining such experience that Jenny (Wei Xini) from Shanghai Province, rejected a three-year management trainee contract with an oil company in favour of a Darley internship in Ireland. Her mother harboured reservations about the internship, but soon realised what a great opportunity Darley represents. “I am at the beginning of my career and it has opened a new door for me,” she says.

“The multinational environment is important, and in both the stable yard and the business part of our studies, we are interacting with people from different backgrounds. We are meeting senior industry leaders, who will be important for our future, and there is a chance to communicate with them about China, as well as to learn from them.”

“At Darley you are always encouraged to think bigger, try harder,” says Jack.