|Cracking pace: Farmers from ethnic groups on Bac Ha plateau in the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai compete in the annual horse race. — VNA/VNS Photo Luc Van Toan
LAO CAI (VNS)— Farmers from different ethnic groups on Bac Ha plateau in the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai gathered at weekend to compete in the annual horse race.
Reigning champion Vang Van Huynh prevailed again, beating 74 other riders from 10 communes.
"Only when sitting on horses can my fellow riders and I show off the courage handed down from our ancestors," said Huynh, while wiping sweat from his face after finishing the race.
The riders competed in groups of five, with the fastest going into the final round.
The horses are packhorses which normally carry maize, rice, and stone in the hamlets.
Bac Ha People's Committee deputy chairman Thao Seo Cau, who is head of the festival organising committee, said the race distance was shortened this year to reduce the strain on the horses.
"This year, they raced 1,900m in the qualifiers and 1,500m in the final. In previous competitions, they had to race 2,000m."
The local public enjoy the races, and so do the tourists whose numbers have doubled since 2009 to nearly 30,000 a year.
The Bac Ha Stadium has a capacity of 7,000 people.
Many cultural activities are also held, involving music and dance, food, farm produce and eco-tourism.
The festival promotes the culture of ethnic groups and increases understanding, exchange and solidarity.
Vang Van Hoang, a local resident, said the horse race was based on stories handed down over centuries, when immense forests were adorned with white plum and apricot flowers and local people flocked to the edifice of the King of local Mong ethnic group, who was known as Hoang A Tuong, to see the horse race.
During the competition, which used to take place at the foot of Ba Me Con Mount, the horsemen in well-fitting dress were ready to gallop when a shot signalled the start.
Approaching the finish line, they jumped from their horses, fired five shots in succession, took a red ball, remounted and carried on.
The winner was the man with the fastest horse and the most points.
However, during the war against the French and American invaders, the race was suspended for several years as the horsemen were conscripted to protect national independence.
In 1975, Bac Ha inhabitants celebrated victory in the anti-American War with a big parade of more than 200 horses.
In the spring of 1980, the horse race was once again launched by the Bac Ha Military Command, attracting more than 50 jockeys from across the district.
But it wasn't until 27 years later, in 2007, that the horse race was officially restored as part of cultural activities, and then only as part of the annual tourism development co-operation programme among eight northwestern provinces. — VNS