Chinese event horse Don Geniro crowned as a controversial Equiratings Horse of the Year
Don Geniro, “The Don”, Olympic mount of Chinese rider, Alex Hua Tian, has been voted Equiratings Horse of the Year (ERHOTY) in a tense public vote on Twitter by over 50%. Runner-up was, MULRYS ERROR, a crowd-favourite, having completed Badminton 2016 double-clear ridden by the inspirational Ben Hobday, followed by Portersize Just A Jiff, the “Pony With the Heart of a Lion”.
The yearly title is awarded to the event horse with the most public votes. 2015’s title went to the talented American event horse, Loughan Glen, ride of Clark Montgomery.
The competition for the ERHOTY for 2016 has caused quite a stir, with 12 horses from top eventing nationals Britain, USA, Ireland, France and Germany including double Olympic medal winning horse La Biosthetique Sam FBW, all in the mix. German Evening valiantly campaigned for veteran superstar Sam:
“ERHOTY for 2016 has to be Sam #DoubleOlympicChampion, #SamTheLegend” but as Chinese fans struggled to access Twitter, new hashtags began to appear: #Chinadisagrees, #HereComesDonGeniro, #NeverUnderEstimateChina. Some even saw the result as a sign of the times:
“Brexit Trump and No Sam..just some voting shocks 2016”.
Alex said: “The Don has had a tremendous year, winning the ERM at Bramham and 8th at the Olympic Games – the two best results of my career to date as well!
Having said that, we all know that as a young horse, Don has yet to measure up to the greats, such as La Biosthetique Sam. I know that there will be a few eventing fans out there who will be a tad sore about The Don beating Sam in the first heat. However, in my mind, Don’s landmark achievement is how he has galvanised millions of new followers from an emerging market. My team and I have been overwhelmed by the genuine and passionate support for The Don from fans in China, especially considering that Twitter is blocked there. With the sport looking to drive itself into new markets, I hope that the established eventing community welcomes these new fans with open arms. China’s growing interest in equestrian sports will bring endless opportunities to the sports and industry sectors. This result is not just exciting for The Don, me and my team, but the whole sport as well!”
Diarmuid Byrne – Director or Equiratings commented: “We had great fun with #ERHOTY again this year – how much does Don Geniro love to make a fool of us? Earlier in the year, we famously said that he wouldn’t win Bramham – we saw two foot perfect jumping displays to take the win and we have been reminded about it ever since. We certainly didn’t think he could take out the now double Olympic Champion Sam, the American darling Mighty Nice or the V8 SuperCob Mr Mulry but if 2016 has taught EquiRatings anything it is to stop underestimating Don Geniro. From a stats point of view, he is there on merit. 22 international runs and an average dressage of 41.9, and yet to have a cross country jumping fault, an ERM win at Bramham and top 10 at Rio, he is front and centre of the ten year olds to look forward to in 2017.”
One of the Chinese supporters, Li Xinyuan, who managed eventually to get onto Twitter tweeted: “This voting method is somewhat biased as it is almost impossible to access Twitter in China. This is not about winning, but we want an opportunity to show how keen we are in China to support and participate in equestrian sport”.
The FEI identified China as one of the key markets for building participation and viewership for equestrian sport. Their media campaign “#TwoHearts” which ran in the build up and during the Olympics was well received by both the press and social media. Alex says: “Of course The Don and I went to Rio to do as well as possible, but an equal priority was to use the Olympics as a platform to promote equestrian sports to fans at home in China. Our ‘Road to the Olympics’ media campaign gained considerable momentum in the Chinese mainstream media and having the FEI #TwoHearts campaign to build on gave us a huge head start”
Mr Li Peng of Daluma.com, China’s leading equestrian news outlet: “Alex Hua Tian is not just the darling of equestrian sports in China but of the whole Chinese sports sphere. Alex and Don’s 8th place is seen as ground-breaking which has huge significance in a market where not achieving a gold medal is often seen as a failure. Having observed Alex and his team’s hard work promoting both his story and equestrian sports for over a year leading up to Rio, they deserve all the attention they get. In my opinion, part of the success of Alex’s ‘Road to the Olympics’ media campaign was giving each of his horses iconic Chinese names, helping the Chinese public relate to each horse and understand each horse’s unique personalities.”
Chinese netizens took The Don and Alex to heart during the Olympics. Their Olympic performance was trending second on Chinese social media during the first week of the Olympics. Alex Hua Tian’s Weibo account (Chinese twitter/facebook) has almost 6 million followers. This month Alex won the prestigious China News Week Award for the Most Influential Sports Person of the Year and has been nominated for the China Central TV’s Breakthrough Award.