Saddle Up Cover

Saddle Up: Riding with China’s New “Cowboys”

Modern “cowboys” embrace the steppes of northern Hebei province as a rural escape

As we get clear of the streets of Xiaobazi, a dusty town in northern China’s Hebei province, my companions and I urge our horses into a trot, then a canter, and then, with the barest prompting, a full-blown gallop. I grip my horse’s middle as tightly as possible with my legs as we tear forward, keeping just enough of a hold to convince myself that I’m in control.

As I fall into the rhythm and let myself feel the thrill of the dry wind battering my face, I become aware of a mechanical roaring to my left, just behind me but quickly drawing level. Haohao leans out of the window and whoops at me, with other voices swelling the chorus from the darkness of the SUV’s interior.

As it turns out, the SUV isn’t just following us for the thrill of the speed. The whole thing is being filmed by Haohao, an elementary school teacher from Beijing who comes here every week to live the life of a cowboy—minus the herding, the manure-shoveling, and all the other boring parts.

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Saddle Up: Riding with China’s New “Cowboys” is a story from our issue, “Upstaged.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


Although his lair is in Beijing, Yefren is rarely seen in the city environment, preferring instead the mountainous surroundings of the city’s far north and west. Rousing himself occasionally from hibernation to write for TWOC, Yefren’s preferred subjects are the outdoor habitats which are sometimes passed over in the public imagination of China, and the various people who inhabit them.

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