Every Saturday, 38-year-old saleswoman Park So-young drives about an hour to a horse riding track in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi Province.
There she joins a group of 10 members who meet up every two weeks to ride horses to get rid of their everyday stress.
“There are other sports like golf and swimming, but exercising with animals is more than just a sport,” Park said.
Horses have been an essential part of Korean culture, and the industry is growing quickly and attracting more people into the community.
Among the hundreds of horseback riding clubs in Seoul, the “Mal Dal Lee Ja” (Giddyup Horse) and Hi Seoul Equestrian Club are the biggest, with some 11,000 and 600 members, respectively.
The members of Mal Dal Lee Ja confirm their attendance before every Sunday meeting and receive lessons from experts hired for different experience levels.
Fees for each session are not cheap, ranging from 60,000 won to 120,000 won ($57 to $114), but the number of people in the horseback riding community jumped nearly 80 percent from about 25,380 people in 2010 to 45,265 in 2012.
The number of tracks across the nation doubled as well, from 193 centers in 2010 to 366 in 2012, according to polling company Gallup Korea.
For horse lovers who prefer learning how to take care of the animals, an online community named “Ae Ma In” (Horse Lovers) allows them to share information.
Club member Kim Dong-joon, who raises horses on Jejudo Island, said he writes about how to take care of the animals, how to wash them and other useful information on breeding horses.
“For people like me, such online communities are places to make friends because it’s not easy or common to own and raise horses in Korea,” Kim explained.
There are also small, non-official groups of people who spend time with horses for other reasons.
Recently, therapeutic riding programs have begun taking place in riding rings in Korea as well, as people are finding it rewarding to spend time with horses and develop loving relationships with them.
The mother of an 8-year-old child who was diagnosed with a mental illness said being around horses gave her son a new life.
“Emotionally, physically, cognitively, horses were a great help to my son and something that will always be with our family. I hope more people come to know that horses are not just for exercising with and eating, but lifelong companions we should be loving and caring for,” she said.
By Suk Gee-hyun (email@example.com)