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Lesotho Horse Race

Photographer: Kim Ludbrook


Deep in the mountains of the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho, an annual horse race amongst the rural Besotho tribesmen on the birthday of the King brings hundreds of men and their horses together for a day of betting, racing and drinking that seems like it has been frozen in time and being raced 100 years ago.


With the road to the local village only being tarred three year ago and mobile phones a recent addition to life, the villagers from the surrounding hills enjoy the rare race as a way to escape the hard living conditions of subsistence farming and sheep herding.


With unique views reminiscent of the Mongolian step, the blanket clad horsemen race on open ground across the freezing grasslands at 2,500m above sea level for the bragging rights of being the best horse and jockey of the year and to make some well-earned money.


Lesotho is a landlocked country that features the highest mountain range in South Africa and is surrounded by South Africa. For decades the horse and donkey have been the main from of transport for the villagers in Lesotho as no car can get access to their villages and sheep stations in the rugged hills. The horses carry everything from humans, gas cylinders, coffins, foot, water, maize meal etc..


Early in the morning the horse owners, teenage jockeys and hundreds of other villagers gather on a step high above the village of Semonkong. Clad in the traditional Basotho blankets to keep out the freezing winter wind blowing, the villagers start to view the horse being paraded for the first race, including the smallest horse and Basotho ponies ridden by tiny teenage jockeys.


Prior to each of the six races the men place their bets on what horse and rider they feel will win and then once the money is gathered by the race organising community, the horses walk across the open field to the start line 1 Mile away.


Then with great fanfare by the watching crowd, the horses and riders are released to race across the open track and past a pile of stones in front of the eager spectators. Much jubilation, singing and dancing greets the winner and with that the money won given to the winning jockey before the next race is scheduled.


The horse are a mixture of local Basotho ponies and race bred horses for Lesotho and South Africa but there are no pens, stables or release gates on view at this race. A far cry from the high stakes money race tracks like Royal Ascot, the money won by the racers is a tiny amount compared to the millions betted on races in Europe and the USA.