TOO YOUNG TO RIDE Putu Sayoga

The starting box gate opened and the horses burst forward, the spectators began to cheer while the gamblers raised their cash. Amidst this noisy applause and merriment, the children were hanging on as firmly as they could to their horses that were galloping in a lightning pace on the track. They are the little jockeys, competing bareback and without safety kit in a race full of risks of accidents that can lead to injuries or death for the preservation of a tradition.

To the people of Sumbawa Island in Indonesia, the horse racing tradition or “pacoa jara” is inseparable from life. In the island that love to raise horses, they have races almost every year going on up to 10 series on the 5 tracks in three districts. Each series lasts 8 to 10 days with hundreds of horses participating. What makes it different in Sumbawa is that the jockeys are all boys aged 5-10 years. For every jockeying, they get money depending on their finish position, between Rp50,000-Rp100,000 or 5-10 USD. Every day during a racing season, there can be 20 races and these little jockeys generally have 15 opportunities to get on the saddle.

Although dangerous for the children, the regional government see this race as part of a tradition they need to preserve. Some of the government officials even have horses themselves and use the service of the little jockeys. Betting is done openly and always excitingly despite its being something illegal in Indonesia. It actually contributes to the everlasting existence of the little-jockeyed horse race there.

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