A French riding instructor is offering rich and poor, alike, the chance to ride a pony
Amaury Le Blan (white hat), director of the club and his assistant (red cap) instructing kids at Saigon Pony Club in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City can be a stuffy place for kids.
Green spaces are few and often crowded. Safe places for exercise and play are, likewise, scarce.
If you want to try surprise your children with something new, consider the Saigon Pony Club in District 2.
On a recent Sunday morning, the air around the club is cool and filled with the musty scent of horses.
Child riders ride around two dirt tracks on the club's handsomely groomed animals.
After around 20 minutes the kids push their miniature steeds into a trot and begin jumping over low, wooden barriers.
The young expert
When nine-year-old Estrid Lusth first came to the club, two years ago, her mother wouldn't let her get on a horse.
Instead, the experienced rider encouraged her daughter to walk the animal around a course until she felt comfortable with the animal.
Today, the little Swedish expatriate seems fully at ease in a saddle.
"I come here two times a week to ride," she said. For Lusth, the club is all about fun.
"I like to play with animals," she says as she mounts a pony and heads into the small riding arena.
Her father, Niklas Sioblom, records her, proudly, with a handheld camera.
When she's not riding ponies, she's reading about how to take care of them, he says.
"It is important for children to be interested in anything they do," Sioblom said. "They enjoy and quickly improve in what they do. And they grow."
Well-heeled students from 10 international schools visit the club for lessons, every week.
PONYING UP THE DOUGH
Private lessons cost VND500,000 for 45 minutes; group lessons cost VND350,000 per person for 45 minutes. In addition to pony rides, lessons and clinics, Saigon Pony Club also offers pony rentals to events and birthday party.
"The cost is US$100 for half a day, plus VND500,000 for the cost of pony transportation by truck," club owner Blan said.
For more details about horse-riding lesson, contact Saigon Pony Club, Lane 42, Le Van Thinh Street, Binh Trung Dong Ward, District 2, HCMC.
You can also call the club at 0913 733 360.
Nine-year-old Estrid Lusth at Saigon Pony Club. She has been riding pony at the club two times a week for two years.
As a way of giving back, the organization also offers disadvantaged and disabled children a chance to commune with the animals, free of charge.
Patrick Desir, co-founder of Poussieres de Vie (dust of life), has sought to provide vocational and language training to street children in HCMC for nine years.
He says that they've brought (more than 10) disadvantaged kids to the club, during the past two years, for free lessons.
"Our kids have gone four times, already," he said. "They wish to go there ever week and once they get up into the saddle, they don't ever want to get off."
He said the lessons open kids up to a whole new world of possibilities.
The process of building a relationship with animals and having fun, at the same time, is very important to their development, he says.
The pony whisperer
Amaury Le Blan brings me out to a stable and helps me onto a big, brown pony with a handsome white spot on its nose.
The tall, stocky Frenchman walks alongside me and shows me how to start, turn left, right and stop.
The horse is sweet and lets out a gentle whinny when I rub its neck.
Blan grew up in northern France where his parents ran a pony stable. He decided to come to Vietnam, just as it was opening its doors.
He joined the club, as an instructor, in 2005. Two years later, he bought it.
Today, he oversees every aspect of the operation.
Most horses, he says, come from local breeders and he carefully screens each pony for any sign of aggression or misbehavior.
Even good horses require a lot of conditioning, he says.
"It takes time to train ponies not to kick, not to bite," he said. "But, Vietnamese horses are very gentle."
The animals are fed rice, sorghum, carrots and wild grass four times a day. In the mornings, they are allowed to run free and graze in nearby fields.
After six classes, Blan says, I'll be able to ride a pony out of the small circular track and out into the surrounding green.