Waves of muddy water slosh over the jockey as he hangs on to the tails of a pair of bulls galloping across the rice paddy.
It’s a wet-and-wild ride in this remote pocket of Indonesia’s Sumatra island, where traditional bull racing known as Pacu Jawi is serious business.
Andri Majoni would be a senior citizen in most professional sports, but the 42-year-old jockey has no plan to give up racing, despite plenty of bruising tumbles over the decades.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years. And I love this sport — there are so many ups and downs,” the mud-soaked jockey told AFP.
The centuries-old races once heralded the end of rice harvesting season when the emerald paddies had been cleared.
Nowadays, hundreds turn up to cheer on fearless jockeys who can net a bull worth as much as 15 million rupiah (about 35,000 baht) if they win a month-end tournament — a princely prize in a country where many live on a few dollars a day.
The rules are simple.
Jockeys grab on to the bulls’ tails and race one at a time down the paddy as fast as they can.
Sometimes a bite to the tail gets the animals in a galloping mood.
Riders have to stay upright for the 250-metre race or it’s all over. Injuries are part of the job.
“I broke my hand once, but that didn’t scare me off — I kept racing,” said Zainal, a 37-year-old jockey.
For Patria, a 15-year-veteran of the races, it’s important to pass the sport on to the next generation.
“This is a tradition handed down from our parents,” he said from a water-logged rice paddy.
While animal racing can be seen in other parts of the vast Indonesian archipelago — including buffalo racing in holiday hotspot Bali — locals in West Sumatra insist their version is one-of-a-kind.
“I like watching the Pacu Jawi races because they only happen here,” said spectator Anis Marsela.
“You’re not going to see this anywhere else.”