Horse racing has always been one of the favorite sports of Tibetan people. There are more than 3.87 million Tibetans in China. Besides the 1.78 million Tibetan people living in Tibet Autonomous Region, the remaining Tibetans are distributed in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan and other provinces.
Although Tibetan people live scattered in different region of China, horse racing is one of their favorite activities, which is also the most lasting and common mass activity of the Tibetan people throughout the ages. Generally speaking, horse racing festivals are held in summer, when meadows are all covered with green soft grass. Seems like the vast plateau land also dress up for the festival. Green grass and various flowers that not known and named decorate the horse race course beautifully.
If you look carefully, you may see the grassland dotted with a variety of wild flowers which also silently witness this huge event together with the Tibetan people.
For the people living on the plateau, the animals like horses, yaks and sheep have been integrated into every bit of their lives. The horse is also closely linked with the material needs and spiritual aspirations of the Tibetan people in the passage of time. For the Tibetan people, horses have also evolved into a deep emotion that cannot be abandoned, and has been integrated into the blood of every Tibetan people. Therefore, usually the whole Tibetan family attend the horse racing festival every year, no matter little babies in swaddle or stumbling elder people.
Their faces glow with different light because of the festival joy. Their skin bathe in the high plateau sunshine throughout the year, which makes them all have very dark skin and red cheekbones. The red color of their cheekbones more like a special seal of the plateau.
The crowds are cheering and shouting. Children runs around on the grassland to find a better place for watching the race while some adults lift their children on their shoulders for a better view. Beautiful Tibetan girls wear their grand Tibetan robes, with precious Tibetan jewelry on their neck, wrist and waist. Their colorful braids are also decorated with gorgeous gems. The grand festival is not only for the brave riders on the horse, but also a grand occasion for every Tibetan.
Since ancient times, many Tibetan people have lived a nomadic life. Horses have been used as an important tool in Tibetan communication, production and war, hence horse riding were also required to be skilled. Even now the Tibetan boys in nomad area are trained to ride a horse since little. And the horse racing rise in response to the proper time and conditions.
Horse racing is called "Dajiu" in Tibetan. The horsemanship of Tibetan has a long history. The selected athletes from various Tibetan areas gather together, with their carefully dressed horses and their solemn Tibetan traditional costumes.
The racetrack is full of cheers and festive atmosphere. Tibetan audiences from different areas set up their tents, bring their homemade yogurt, milk curds and snacks and choose a good position for the exciting show. Some just sit on grass while others even bring stools so that they can stand on. They cheere with high spirits, especially when their friends or family show up in the competition.
Fond of horses is the nature of the Tibetan nation. In their eyes, "although horses have animal fur, they have the spirit and feelings of God." Horse racing is one of the main contents of Tibetans’ life and entertainment, so there are a lot of horse racing activities every year in different regions among people living on vast grasslands. Every large-scale festival has horse racing, which is also an important carrier of Tibetan folk culture and customs.
The horses joining in the racing are carefully dressed. In addition to the beautiful saddle sheath and bridle on the horse's back, the horse's forehead is decorated with colorful flowers, the neck is covered with colorful silk, even the tail is braided, then tied with colorful ribbons. These decorations make the horse look like a rainbow while running.
Secondly, the main parts commonly known as "six sets of horses" would also be worn, include bells, mats, saddles, cages, whips and stirrups. The riders have to be very meticulous while they put on those decorations for the horses. Every rope buckle must be carefully set since any link of negligence may bring life danger to the rider. Some of the riders choose not to put any sets on the horse to increase the difficulty of the race.
With a gorgeous mount, the competitors should also dress up carefully. It is particularly handsome to wear high-top Tibetan boots and wear colorful Tibetan clothes and plus a cowboy hat. Carrying a fork gun or a bow and arrow, the riders seem exceptional charming.
The horse racing process is thrilling. If you are on the scene, you will be amazed at the excellent riding and shooting of Tibetans. The racetrack usually have a central stand, which is also the VIP seats for the whole race process. The most exciting and thrilling riding and shooting actions will be performed here. If you are lucky to occupy the position here, you will see many incredibly wonderful performances.
Many riders perform horse riding consummate skills here while they pass the central stand. You can see them suddenly lean down their bodies to one side of the horse and dragging their back on the ground while the horse galloping by. Only their feet are still on the stirrups. The rider will straighten up again and whip on the horse after pass the central stand, the whole process happen while the horse runs at a high speed.
Also a target for archery are set near the central stand. The rider needs to hit the target with an arrow while he rides on the galloping horse. You will be amazed by the incredible performance of the riders. You can see them tilt their body in an extreme angle and try to hit the target while the horse run passing by the target. Their eyes closely gaze at the target, which is of course not an easy thing. The people there all hold their breath at the same time and concentrate on the bow and arrow in the rider's hand. This is truly a magical moment.
The annual horse race is very important for Tibetans. They start to prepare everything quite early in advance every year. They set their rest tents near the race course, put on gorgeous Tibetan costumes, wear different kinds of exquisite ornaments, gather at the same place from far and near for the horse race.
Nowadays, horse racing festival has become a window to understand Tibetan culture. This annual event, which has a history of more than 300 years, is not only a place for farmers and herdsmen to gather in their spare time and exchange their experience in agricultural and animal husbandry production, but also a display of Tibetan national spirit. It has also become an important purpose of participating in the event for many people to go and visit Tibet and integrate into local culture at this grand occasion.