Jockey dreams can end in injury or death


Photos by Gamma Agency D.Davaanyam


Ride a horse, ride a horse in the winter, ride a horse in the coldest city on Earth. Mongolian children as young as five years-old ride horses for distances of 20 kilometers, running at speeds of 30 miles per hour or more. All told, hundreds of brave-hearted child jockeys will race for competitions this February. The horse trainer is trying to win prizes, and honor is important, but children love and understand their horse sincerely said 12 year-old child jockey, Naran.

Frozen horse racing competitions

Recently, the capital city’s weather reached more than -20 degrees Celsius during the day, and -30 degrees Celsius at night. UB Post asked 40 year-old Italian traveler and father of three, Matteo Lafti about winter in Ulaanbaatar, He said, “This morning I nearly froze when waiting for the bus or taxi for around ten minutes in front of my guesthouse. My eyelashes and hair were covered with hoar and frost.
“My cheeks were feeling numb and when I saw that a bus was coming, I felt like meeting my best friend who I had seen a long time ago.” UB Post told him that Mongolia is completely frozen during the winter season across the entire territory. If you spit outside in Uvs Province, your saliva will be frozen before it reaches the ground, and it can be painful to breathe in the cold air.

Uvs is the coldest province, where temperatures can reach -50 degrees Celsius in the winter, located in the west of the country, 1,336 km away from Ulaanbaatar.
We asked Matteo what he would say if a horse trainer offered him one thousand USD for his six or seven year old child to ride a horse in a 20 kilometer race in -20 degree Celsius weather. It is not just riding a horse, it is horseracing, which means riding a horse at top speed and riding to win prize money. He said, “Nobody would ever accept that suggestion and would call you a crazy idiot, or some parents might beat you just for your proposal.”
You never hear of this kind of story in any other country in the world except Mongolia. After every Tsagaan Sar festival, Mongolians organize horse racing competitions. After the newspapers and television stations announce how many child jockeys died during the races, we see that too many children are injured on horseback or by cars following the races. Sometimes, it’s hard to distinguish between the dangers of the cars or the racing, because there are often too many cars among the horses. These cars are sometimes race inspectors, but also spectators. They are dangerous to the racing horses and child jockeys.
Mongolians are not totally crazy. Eight-hundred years ago, when we started celebrating the three mainly games – including horse racing competitions, it was believed that children who were five years-old had bones that were not developed completely and serious injury and broken bones were less likely. And light children were good for a horse’s back. That’s why children as young as five years-old ride horses and participate in competition said teacher and scientist at National University of Mongolia, U. Narannyam.
But some of the horse owners run big companies and some are parliament members. These rich people take advantage of parents who live in the countryside, brainwash them and promise monthly salaries equal to 100 USD when the parent of a child jockey accepts this proposal. Last year, six child jockeys died and over one hundred children were injured during the Dunjingarav horse racing competition. Recently, governmental and humanitarian organizations have been having critical discussions about child jockey safety conditions, which have brought about some new requirements for the Mongolian Federation of Horse Trainers. Some children are now provided with life insurance and safety equipment. But we still haven’t stopped the death of children, because some parents whose children died during races withdrew their complaints to the police, and the police don’t have the right to investigate these kinds of incidents without formal complaints. Suspicions have arisen that horse owners paid parents to take back their complaints said an expert at the Place for Children. Place for Children is a governmental organization trying to make amendments to the law related to the parents of child jockeys who have died. They want police to investigate horse owners and follow procedures according to international laws and related legislation.

Child jockeys don’t like participating in winter races

Thousands and thousands of children will be participating in horse racing competitions after Tsagaan Sar, and some will be faced with death without a chance to survive. This year, the annual Dunjingarav horse race will be held on February 23, as part of the annual winter horse racing competitions, a gathering that matters more to some Mongolians than the Olympics.
According to statistics, jockeys don’t like to participate in winter horse racing, because they spend 40 minutes to an hour experiencing painful breathing, desperation, and frozen numbness on horseback. It can be painful to the child jockey and the young horse, said 12 year-old child jockey Munkh-Erdene, who lives in Ulaanbaatar. The boy’s father is a successful businessman, importing electronics, bicycles and mining equipment from Japan. But like many affluent Mongolians these days, he also breeds racehorses. “Last summer, I was going to send him to Singapore to improve his English,” his 49 year-old father, Enkhbayar said of his son. “But he decided to stay with me to help with the horses.” Horse owners usually don’t let their sons or daughters race their horses,” Enkhbayar said. “But I let my son start racing three years ago. It’s important to have him inherit the knowledge of horses from me. He’ll continue to train horses.” But he says he never lets his son participate in winter horse racing.
Last year 653 horse races were organized across the country, this includes small and medium sized competitions. According to the figures, 20,000 child jockeys participated in these competitions. At least 958 child jockeys fell from their horses during races, and of these, 16 children suffered mild injuries, 34 children were harmfully injured, and six children died. After the February horse races, the Mongolian Federation of Horse Trainers promises not to organize any other competitions until July.

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