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

The horse race has existed in the mind of Bac Ha people as a myth and became a unique traditional culture of the "white plateau".

According to Vang Van Hoang, a local resident, in the old days, when immense forests were adorned with white plum and apricot flowers, local people flocked to the Hoang A Tuong edifice to see the horse race.

During the competition, which usually takes place at the foot of Ba Me Con Mount, the horsemen in well-fitting dress are ready to gallop when a shot signals the start of the race.

Approaching the finish line, they jump down off their horses, fire five shots in succession, take the red ball, hop back onto their horses and return to the start line.

The traditional form of riding without a saddle makes the race more interesting with spectacular performances. The man who has the fastest horse and obtains the most goals is the winner.

During wartime, the race was absent for many years as horsemen went to the battlefield to protect national independence.

In the spring of 1980, a horse race held by the Bac Ha Military Command gathered more than 50 jockeys from villages across the district.

Twenty-seven years later, the horse race was officially restored as part of cultual activities in response to the annual tourism development cooperation programme between eight northwestern provinces.

More and more visitors have come to Bac Ha to taste the unique festival, which saw the number of visitors in 2012 doubling the 2009 figure to 30,000.

The restoration of the festival aims to meet cultural and spiritual demands of local ethnic groups, helping preserve their special cultural values, said Nguyen Anh Tuan, Chairman of the Bac Ha People's Committee.

Vang Van Huynh, who excelled in last year's race, said only when sitting on horseback, can he and his fellow riders show off their courage handed down from their ancestors.

As a race designed for “barefoot cavaliers”, who have been friends of horses since they were born, the festival has become an attraction for both domestic and international tourists.

Joining this year's festival, visitors will have a chance to join in the exciting and animated atmosphere with a host of activities such as traditional dances, cuisine festival, farm produce market, and eco-tourism programmes.-VNA