GUNGPYEONG, Gyeonggi Province ― Five office workers saddled up, trotting on horses until they were sweating and out of breath.
They were employees of Samsung Electronics, enjoying their weekly outing to Gungpyeong Camp, an equestrian club in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province.
With the rising popularity of horseback riding, the camp served around 23,000 customers last year.
“I resumed riding horses after a 10-year break, after I found out that my company had a horseback riding association organized by the employees,” a Samsung official said.
“Once you start learning horseback riding, you eventually keep coming back to it,” she added, pointing out the sport’s intense workout.
In the camp’s reception lounge were a working couple, taking off their riding helmets and vests and coddling their baby daughter.
Both engaged in education-related business, Ae-jung and her husband Yoon Sang-chul said they picked Gungpyeong Camp for its “great facilities and above all, terrific price”: 10,000 won ($9.53) for 45 minutes for members and 62,000 won for nonmembers.
“Horseback riding is distinguished from other sports since it involves living creatures. We love it, and we cannot wait till our daughter gets old enough to learn horseback riding,” she added.
While the major equestrian clubs are located outside Seoul, the majority of their customers are office workers from the capital, according to Ryu Tae-joung, CEO of Gungpyeong Camp.
When asked about the best time to start horseback riding, the CEO advised that it is best to start horseback riding at an early age, when the reflexes are quicker.
Ryu launched his equestrian business in 1995 as a 28-year-old with a bachelor’s degree in industrial design. He admired the aesthetic aspect of horses that gave him artistic inspiration in his studies.
Then in 2009, he opened Gungpyeong Camp, narrowing down the business to two areas ― looking after racing horses and the horseback riding club for both professional riders and non-professionals.
“The equestrian business is considered a promising business item for advanced countries with a national income per capita of $25,000 or higher,” he said.
The CEO aimed to make horseback riding a popular sport nationwide so that everyone can enjoy the physical and mental benefits.
“That requires an available pricing system and well-structured business system,” he said, suggesting Riding Club Crane, a famous equestrian club chain in Japan, as his benchmark enterprise.
Headquartered in Osaka, Crane has multiple chains in the suburbs of densely populated major cities, he said, hoping that his own business would likewise stretch outward nationwide, starting from the southern suburbs of Seoul.
“Right now the country has only a small number of equestrian clubs because the business requires massive facility investment,” the CEO said. Gungpyeong Camp was not an exception and Ryu made an initial investment between 7 billion won to 8 billion won.
Optimistic about the rising equestrian industry in Korea, Ryu said he was considering business cooperation with large equestrian clubs in Japan and China.
After five years in the horseback riding business, he came very close to breaking even.
The CEO called his business “a multigenerational family business,” referring to his two sons, still in their teens, will take over the business after him. His elder son, Ryu Eun-sik, is the champion of the 2013 National Junior Horsemanship Competition, supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
By Chung Joo-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)