The unique Bac Ha plateau horse race

Horsemen from ethnic groups on the Bac Ha plateau in the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai gathered at the annual horse race festival on June 8.

The horse race has always existed in the mythology of the Bac Ha people and was designed for “barefoot cavaliers”, who have been friends with horses since they were born. It has now become part of the unique traditional culture of the “white plateau” and a popular attraction for both domestic and international tourists.

According to local resident Vang Van Hoang, in the old days, when the immense forests were adorned with white plum and apricot flowers, local people flocked to the Hoang A Tuong edifice to watch the horse race, which usually took place at the foot of Ba Me Con Mountain.

The horsemen gathered at the starting line and, when a shot signaled the start of the race, they galloped towards a specific point. When they reached their goal, they jumped off their horses, fired five shots, and grabbed a red ball before remounting their horses and returning to the starting line.

The traditional race is run bareback, which makes it even more exciting with spectacular performances.
During wartime, the race was suspended for many years as the horsemen went to the battlefield to fight for national independence.

The race was resumed in the spring of 1980 when the Bac Ha Military Command gathered more than 50 jockeys and horses from villages across the district to join the competition.

Twenty-seven years later, the race was officially restored as part of the annual tourism programme in eight northwestern provinces.

Increasing numbers of visitors have come to Bac Ha to witness this unique festival, with 30,000 watching the race in 2012, double the figure in 2009.

The restoration of the festival aims to help preserve the special cultural and spiritual values of local ethnic minority people, said Nguyen Anh Tuan, Chairman of the Bac Ha People’s Committee.

Vang Van Huynh, who won last year’s race, said only when they are on horseback, can he and his fellow riders show off the courage they inherited from their ancestors.

Visitors at this year’s festival will be able to join the exciting and animated atmosphere and enjoy a number of other activities including traditional dances, a food festival, farmer’s market, and various eco-tourism programmes.