Saihanba in Hebei province is a riding heaven for all seasons. Teng Xue / For China Daily
It's time to take the reins, so saddle up with Alexis Hooi as he gives you the options near Beijing offering some of the best rides in the country.
Many well-heeled Beijingers polish their equestrian skills and etiquette at more than 10 stables in the capital, but this is the place to go if you want to get a brief taste of the freedom of riding in the open.
The area, known as one of the hunting grounds of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperors, lies about an hour's drive northwest from the city past the Badaling Great Wall.
Kangxi is dotted with wind turbines along the southern shore of the Guanting reservoir. A mountain range in the north means you can get the full view of the plain, water and highland as you gallop through sunflower-filled fields.
Yangbian Great Wall
Head out about an hour further southwest of Kangxi grassland to spur your horse through the Tianmo desert, a patch of sand small enough for TV and film crew to use for their scenes of the Chinese "Wild West". Amble through narrow, dusty valleys to reach deserted villages and a fort that can also be used for filming and where you can play the Chinese raiding bandit. The air soon clears up for a view of the mountain range ahead, where the Yangbian section of the Great Wall snakes through. The ridge is manageable enough for the area's northern stock horses to trek up and stables in the area can even arrange for overnight barbecues on the ruins of the Wall.
This is where most Beijing slickers spend their weekend to give their horses free rein in the closest genuine grassland to the capital. Bashang, about half a day's drive from Beijing, is actually the highland that rises north of the capital before the border of Hebei province and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region toward the Mongolian plateau. The horses here are mostly of the sturdy Mongolian stock that are legendary for their speed and stamina, promising exhilarating daylong canters through Bashang's rolling hills. The nearby Shan Dian Lake is a day-trip option to picnic along cool shores, accompanied by herds of grazing cattle and sheep.
Saihanba forest park
It can take more than half a day through winding mountain roads to reach Saihanba forest park north of Hebei's Chengde city from Beijing, but many people will tell you the journey is well worth it. Saihanba has an average altitude of 1,400 meters and is known in horse riding circles as a "photographer's and rider's paradise", with its forests, plains and more than 10 plateau lakes. Gallop your horse through green plains brushed by the summer breeze, amble through the golden colors of the autumn forest or trudge it through thick snow in sub-zero temperatures - Saihanba is a riding heaven for all seasons.
Xilin Gol grassland
The Xilin Gol grassland lies on the Mongolian plateau in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and is considered one of the most beautiful grasslands in Asia.
Ethnic Mongolians make up about one-third of the population here and that means you can get an authentic experience of what it is like to live like a true nomad of the steppes.
There are annual daylong horse endurance races that push the famously tough Xilin Gol steeds to their limits.
Take an hour-long flight to Xilinhot city from Beijing and the open plains await.
(China Daily 07/27/2011 page18)