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The Child Jockeys of Bima

Photographer: Mast Irham


Children, aged five to ten years, are trained and used as jockeys in Sumbawa island for popular horse races, a traditional sport in the area and a cultural heritage which continues to be preserved by the people of Bima. Hundreds of horses are usually entered in these races.


The children's training starts from early age. Around five, they are not afraid of riding at high speed. The horseback riding and horse handling ability is taught as it is passed on from parent to child, as is the feeling of excitement and honor of competing in these races as well. Horse owners are on the lookout for small and light competent riders.


The child jockeys are traditionally trained to race with skill and guts, but they do not wear proper safety equipment. They ride without a saddle or footwear, and often no helmet, so thick socks, long sleeves and a full face mask are used as protection from flying debris. These simple items form the best safety riding gear they have.


Although dangerous, the child jockeys are fully supported by their parents as it is a local tradition. The fathers too were once on a horse as a young boy. It is also economically good for the family, who earn from the horse owners. The jockeys earn IDR 20,000 to IDR 50,000 (1.25 Euro to 3.17 Euro) each ride, and they ride 10 to 15 times in a day. The races draw hundreds of betting spectators from all around the city to come, watch and bet.


As children in a competitive and dangerous fast sport, there are tears and fears, especially with falls. Accidents happen, and some cause severe injuries and the risk of the child jockey being trampled by a horse. But the race still continues on despite the spills, as it is not just a competition, but also a pride of a tradition.