The Horse-racing Festivals of Nomadic Ethnic Groups
At purely recreational festivals, people take great delight in socializing with their relatives and friends; in singing and dancing and having a good time. Various competitions and entertainments play a prominent role in these types of festivals, a good example being traditional Chinese Festivals of Song.
Traditionally, the Mongolian, Kazak, Kirgiz and some Tibetan peoples led a nomadic existence, moving from one place to another seeking hunting prey or fresh pasture for their livestock. Horse riding thus became an integral part of the lives of theses nomads, both in terms of herding livestock and animals, and occasionally doing battle against other ethnic groups. Many festivals of horse-racing are celebrated by these "Horse-Riding Ethnic Groups", such as the Mongolian Nadam Fair, the Tibetan Ongkor (Bumper Harvest) Festival and Greater Prayer Ceremony (Mon-Lam-chen-po).
Horse-racing can be divided into three categories: horse racing contests, horse walking contests, and steeplechases.
The horse racing contest usually takes place over general terrain designated as a racetrack, the length of which can be anything from 20 to 40 kilometers or more in length. The contest mainly tests the speed and endurance of horses. The one who reaches the end point first wins the race. At the beginning of the race, the sight of dozens of sleek horses galloping off under a blue sky like arrows shot from a heavenly bow is truly a spectacular never-to-be-forgotten scene.
The horse walking contests are somewhat different. Such events test the patience, the steadiness and the grace of horses as well as their speed. Here the horse must walk elegantly rather than gallop crazily. The horses which are used in these contests are adult horses over five years old; the riders are also strong and robust adults.
The steeplechase racecourse usually includes mountainsides and rugged mountain roads. The length is usually somewhere over five hundred meters. This type of contest is most common in Tibetan areas.
A great hero needs a swift horse; a swift horse needs a hero. In horse-racing, horse and man become one. To best display his wondrous horsemanship, the rider firstly must have a good eye for choosing a good and suitable horse. He must then train the horse and become familiar with its habits and characteristics. One month before the contest, the racer will "slim the horse", which involves warming up the horse by reducing its fat content and overall weight, in order to strengthen its endurance. Before the contest, the mane of the sleek and lean horse is tied up to keep it out of the horse's eyes and its tail trimmed to reduce wind resistance. Some riders fasten colored ribbons to the horse' s mane and tail. The multicolored ribbons serve to easily distinguish the different horses. The riders will also give the horses a thorough washing, and tie on bronze bells, necklaces as well as colorful ribbons to their manes. In this way, the horses present a beautiful sight to the watching spectators during the various competitions.
The riders' costumes are also elaborately prepared. They must be both light and soft. The light material minimizes the weight the horse must carry and a soft material easily absorbs sweat. The robes the riders wear are short, and close-fitting to reduce wind resistance. The riding boots worn are soft, supple and light. Being chosen to compete as a rider in the horse-racing contests is a great honor. The riders dress in gay costumes:, the front, cuffs, sleeves, and trouser legs of which are embroidered with elegant patterns.
Large-scale horse racing is held during the Nadam Fair. Sometimes small-scale horse races will also be held by herdsmen at ordinary, non-festival times.
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