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posted: 6/19/2011 6:00 AM

Downstate horse supplier becomes international businessman

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  • Phil Farrell of rural Lovington, Ill., looks through his pictures from China, where he delivered had several varieties of horses, including Clydesdales, to a Chinese businessman.

      Phil Farrell of rural Lovington, Ill., looks through his pictures from China, where he delivered had several varieties of horses, including Clydesdales, to a Chinese businessman.
    Kelly J. Huff/Herald & Review

 
By Bob Fallstrom
(Decatur) Herald & Review

LOVINGTON, Ill. -- Mr. Liu is one happy guy. Phil Farrell is one happy guy, too.

Farrell has returned from two weeks in Mr. Liu's palatial digs outside Daqing, northeast China, where he supervised training on how to handle the horses he has supplied, including Clydesdales, how to become accustomed to the nature of the horses and how to take care of them.

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Mr. Liu, who lives in the splendor of a Chinese nobleman, is the biggest buyer of Farrell horses. The operator of Farrell Farms near Lovington said he has sold Mr. Liu 170 to 180 horses, starting in 2005.

"I flew to Beijing," Farrell said. "The plane was late in arriving and I figured we would have to find a hotel for the night. Instead, a fleet of three Lincoln Navigators was waiting, along with a Rolls-Royce limo. I was whisked to a private plane and we were off to Daqing.

Mr. Liu has a 180,000-acre farm and 40,000 cows. He is building a new palace patterned after the Forbidden City in Beijing. There will be an entertainment center on the grounds plus three layers of apartment complexes. He's big politically and as a real estate developer and is in the upper third on the Fortune 500 list of the richest people.

Farrell is responsible for introducing the Clydesdale breed of horses to Mr. Liu. The Clydesdale horse is as tall as 6 feet, weights as much as 2,000 pounds and has an impressive presence. You've seen the Budweiser Clydesdales in person and in TV advertisements. Mr. Liu intends to use the Clydesdales as an advertising symbol, too.

"I met Mr. Liu through a friend. He is interested in importing horses not found in China. That's where I come in," said Farrell.

"He has asked me to be the overseer of his horses. He reminds me of August Busch Jr. of Anheuser Busch. That's how Mr. Liu operates. He wanted me to stay two months. I'm going back in September. We get along. Although none of the Chinese can speak English, they are very gracious."

Farrell, 65, never envisioned such a relationship, such an international business. "In the last 10 years, the international sales have taken off," he said. "In 2003, I sent a load of horses to Pakistan, Percherons and mules. I've been invited to go there. I'm not going, too dangerous."

In December, Farrell shipped 90 horses to Mongolia. He has also supplied horses in Taiwan, Thailand, Africa, Brazil and Honduras. Race horses are in demand, as well as show horses. Farrell ships the horses from major airports in the United States, persevering through red tape government regulations.

Farrell's specialty is Clydesdales, although he has four other breeds on his farm, which dates from 1850. He considers his training trip a historic "first" in China.

"They'll do business with you if you gain their confidence, if you develop their trust," Farrell said. "I expect the horse market will be big in China for many years."

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