Edited By: Oindrila Mukherjee
Last Updated: February 09, 2023, 00:07 IST
The ponies at Assam’s Jorhat races display a perfect blend of trust, camaraderie and synchronisation between man and animal. (Image: News18)
Among a few left in the world, these ponies from the sand bars of Assam’s Majuli carry their jockeys barebacked to the finish line competing for the prestigious Governor’s Cup at the Jorhat Gymkhana Club
They run bareback for their masters, they are their master’s choice to keep their breed alive: they are the ponies – only a few of them left now – from the sand bars of Asia’s largest riverine island, Assam’s Majuli.
Though these “horses” do not fit the size and breed often seen at national and international derbies, they are match winners in their own respect. After all, size does not matter here; spirit does, and these ponies have proven it in both letter and spirit time and again during the historic Jorhat races of Upper Assam.
What makes them stand out besides their stature is that they are among a few left in the world that still battle it out on the race course, carrying their jockeys barebacked. With no saddle, stirrup or a proper harness, these ponies effortlessly carry their masters barebacked to the finish line competing for the prestigious Governor’s Cup.
“Our ancestors have been riding in the races for the past 150 years. We cannot say if some of our horses were lost to floods, as there were no races during Covid. This time it was difficult to gather the horses from the sand bars. I have 12 horses but my favourite is Utapuwali. We have been training our horses over the past two-and-a-half months,” said Ranjit Taye from Assam’s Jajhimukh.
Unlike in modern-day derbies, the jockeys here don’t wear any protective helmet during the bareback races. Even in the most aggressive Palio di Siena bareback horse races in Italy, jockeys don protective headgear.
The first race of the Jorhat races started on January 16, 1877, under the first club secretary CI Showers. The Jorhat Gymkhana Club has been a venue for the annual horse races ever since its inauguration.
The Jorhat races are described as one of the oldest sporting events of the region and one of its kind in the world. The idea behind the races was to display planters’ equestrian skills at a carnival-like atmosphere, where all the workers from plantations could be thoroughly entertained.
Mising riders and ponies from the Brahmaputra bank were invited to the races much later. Thousands gather in the greens of the club to witness the races and, this year too, will be no exception. Today, these races are not only an event for entertainment but more importantly a legacy that helps keep the horses and its breed alive.
“I have got two new horses for the races this time. I have been judged the best jockey for the last 12 years and now am providing training for the upcoming race,” said Sunit Taye, award-winning jockey of Jorhat Races.
The ponies at the Jorhat races display a perfect blend of trust, camaraderie and synchronisation between man and animal. In the mid-1900s, planters stopped using horses for their ‘kamjari’ (work) and the very existence of the races came under threat. Mising riders and ponies from the Brahmaputra bank were then invited to the races. Tea garden horses were replaced with Mising ponies and the races continued.
The ponies are ridden bareback – without saddles and stirrups. The Royal Calcutta Turf Club, organisers of the oldest horse races in India, helps the Jorhat races by providing technical guidance to further the sport and ensure the smooth running of this heritage event.
After the races, the ponies live wild and free on the sand bars of the mighty Brahmaputra only to be back on the running course the next year.
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