Making news

Reviving horse racing tradition in Lao Cai’s Bac Ha

Reviving horse racing tradition in Lao Cai’s Bac Ha Bac Ha horse racing festival was recognised as a national intangible heritage on May 31, setting the scene for the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai to foster preservation of its distinctive north-western cultures.

Horses are close friends of tribal villagers across Lao Cai as they have been used for transportation for generations. In the late afternoon when the sun sets behind mountains in the west, the horses patiently carry crops harvested from remote upland fields all the way through rocky bumpy mountain roads to the village.

The horse racing event is held every spring at the foot of Ba Me Con Mount in the heart of Bac Ha district, which is endowed with magnificent landscapes and rich in ethnic minority culture.

Neither a commercial nor professional race, the festival at Bac Ha features farmers and their pack horses which normally carry maize, rice and stone. Horsemen ride their horses without harness and stirrups, just a horse belt, with two iron hooks tied to ropes on either side of the horse’s mouth for control.

Bac Ha horses are dubbed as the most beautiful breed in Vietnam.

According to local residents, the horse race was revived based on stories handed down through generations since the old time 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, 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 wars against the French and American invaders, the race was not held for many years as the horsemen were conscripted to protect national independence.

In 1975, Bac Ha residents 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 as part of the annual tourism development co-operation programme among eight north-western provinces.

Vang Van Huynh, a jockey who championed the tournament in 2012 and 2013, said it is important to keep a watch on other horses while racing, to keep a safe distance and prevent them from bumping into or crossing over in front of each other, causing accidents.

“You must sit firmly on the horse’s back to control it during the race. When entering a turn, you must pull in the reins to slow it down to avoid falling and release the rein pressure and spur the horse to full speed when running on a straight track,” he said.

The festival attracts a large crowd of exciting audience every year, many of whom are visitors from other parts of the country wishing to have unforgettable memories with the Bac Ha plateau./.