(No.6, Vol.7,Dec 2017-Jan 2018 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
In hilly Phu Yen province, horses have been pooling carts to transport farm produce since the dawn of time. And every year on the 9th day of the 1st lunar month, the petite ponies and their masters gather at the Thi Thung earthen hill of An Xuan Commune, Tuy An District to take part in a flamboyant race, a lungful of country vigor.
Thi Thung hill is about 15km west of Chi Thanh Township of Tuy An District, and about 45km northwest of Tuy Hoa City, Phu Yen Province.
A tradition since the French colonial times, Thi Thung hill horse races in recent years have become more and more gay, attracting more and more racers and audience.
People begin to call each other merrily starting in the early morning of the 9th day of the New Year. At about 8.30 a.m., as the drum beats announce the start, the horses plunge forward, raising a huge cloud of dust. The sound of the drums and the cheering of the crowd echo back from faraway mountains.
The racing horses are not the big and tall kind as in the race courses, but the type of pack-horses farmers use to transport their goods. Riding them are young farmers who work their fields all year round, not professional jockeys.
Prizes include a small amount of money and some souvenirs. But this is one of the most popular festive events in mid-Vietnam during New Year holidays.