“This time you're going to come down the middle and turn in front of me,” calls Louise, their teacher, her tone consistently cheerful despite the bitter cold. “Good! Keep pushing!”
There are a lot of things you can do in the rapidly developing Vietnamese capital that you couldn’t 10 years ago, and you can now add to that list riding horses. Ngo Le Thang and Nguyen Thi Hoa Hop opened the riding school at the beginning of 2014 on their spacious property in Cau Giay District, where the couple lives and runs a traditional-style wooden restaurant. Bringing unusual animals to Hanoi is a bit of a family tradition: in the 1920s, Ngo’s grandfather was the first person to open a circus in then French-occupied Vietnam. “He’s very famous in Vietnam for training animals,” Hop says. “Lions, elephants, tigers...”
The Family Business
The circus in Lenin Park is still the family business. Ngo teaches acrobatics there, and he grew up watching his mother perform dramatic feats on horseback, from doing handstands to playing the ty ba (a Chinese four-chord lute). He’s wanted to open a riding school “for a long time,” but it took six years to find the horses — there are 16 of them, brought in from Australia and Germany — and hire a medical expert to look after them. “We don't have vets for horses in Vietnam, only cows and buffalo,” Hop explains.
After a broadcast on national television channel VTC featured the riding school, scores of curious families arrived, as well as couples looking for a novel place to take wedding photographs — what more auspicious location could there be in the Year of the Horse?
“This is the first time they saw a big horse that wasn’t on television,” says Hop. “In Malaysia and Thailand, they know about horses. Why not Vietnam?”
Ngoc Nguyen’s sons, who started riding at eight months old in Ho Chi Minh City and continued riding as the family moved between Africa and Asia, typify the new generation of Vietnamese riders.
“They have to ride every week,” she says. After she spotted Ngua Hanoi on the news, the family drove an hour from their home in Ciputra to check it out.
They’re accompanied by Ngoc’s sister Diem, who works for an e-commerce company. At the age of 24, she’s never ridden a horse. Today, encouraged by her sibling, Diem climbs into the saddle.
“I felt a little scared, but it was fun,” she says afterwards. “I’ll probably come back.”
Ngua Hanoi is at Ngo A36 Ho Tung Mau, Cau Giay, Hanoi. A 45-minute riding lesson costs VND450,000 and a 10-minute pony ride is VND50,000. Call 0904 092827 or visit nguahanoi.vn for more information