Horse Sport comes to Davao Oriental

Slowly but surely they came, from near and far, horses and horsemen alike, to participate in what would be the first sporting event of its kind in Mindanao’s east coast – the 1st Davao Oriental Horse Show and Competition. From the Northwest came teams from Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental-Bukidnon Horsemen’s Associations, from the North just above, the Agusan del Sur horsemen, from Southern Mindanao, the Davao Horse Club and the Davao del Sur horsemen and from within the province itself, the Manayboro (horsemen from Manay town) and the Mati Ranchers. And then the Show began.

Held on June 29 and 30, 2018, at the Davao Oriental Sports Complex located at Barangay Dahican in Mati City, the historic event was staged by the Provincial Government of Davao Oriental in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, with planning and technical support from the Davao Horse Club. Dramatically enough, the event, one of the highlights of the 51st Founding Anniversary of the Province, started with a Parade of Horses at the Opening Ceremonies, with the host, Governor Nelson L. Dayanghirang himself riding a steed around the oval and lighting a raised cauldron to signify the beginning of the horse tournament. Witnessing the ceremonies were Provincial Vice Governor Nino Sotero L. Uy and other officials. Horse enthusiast Judge Emilio G. Dayanghirang III led the Oath of Sportsmanship. Sydney-based Davaoena equestrian Chiara D. Amor who, at 20 has joined show jumping competitions in Europe and in Asia, was special guest.

The first day of competition saw heart-stopping 1,200-meter oval races for both categories B & C – horses from 54 to 57 inches and those 53 inches and below or the medium and small horses, respectively. The crowd lustily cheered the local jockeys who braved the races for the first time. The Obstacle races came next – a tricky mix of obstacles meant to show the horsemanship skills of each rider. From the starting line, one galloped to a mud pit (yes, a hole full of water and mud) on the way to the “table top,” an earthen 10-foot hill from which horse and rider descended down to either left or right depending on which lane one was assigned (the competition came in pairs) directly to a barrel slalom then straight on to zig zag around six poles.

After which the rider galloped over to a barrel from which one snatched a rope that would allow the rider to pull and drag an old tire, drop it at a point then on to a chute into which the rider fits in the horse and backs it out, hind legs first. From here he runs back up to the table top, down to the mud pit and on to the homestretch and finish line. Fastest time wins.

Easier said than done though. Hitting and causing a barrel or pole to fall or the wrong execution of an obstacle meant additional seconds that increased one’s time.

Here in this huge challenge for any rider, the youngsters, ladies and men battled it out in their respective categories. Quite a few horse and rider tandems managed to swim after falling in the mud pit. No penalty there, only wasted time if one were to get back on the saddle and resume the race (which many did, by the way, amidst cheering from the crowd).

Depending on age, gender and experience, riders were categorized into the following: Youth (15 years and below), Ladies, Novice, Royal (for men and women alike, at least 40 years old who don’t get to ride too often; executives mainly), Intermediate and Expert. Horse grooms had their own category, the Auxiliary Division.

A cowboy-themed dinner awaited the horsemen in the first evening of the 2-day event. Hosted by the Governor who also gave the welcome remarks, the affair turned into a warm reception and fun fellowship among the visiting teams and the Davao Oriental horsemen. A jamming session with the local band ensued.

Early the second and last day of the tournament found the different horse groups, led by Philippine Horsemen’s Federation President Gerardo C. Olaguer, participating in the civic parade celebrating the Province’s Foundation Day in downtown Mati City. Soon after, back in the Provincial Sports Center, the horse competition resumed. First off was The Best Groomed Horse contest that allowed the horse contestants led by the owner to parade around the judging area much like in a beauty pageant.

Each one’s conformation, hoof condition, grooming and general behavior all added up in different degrees in the judging by veterinarian judges. Main game of the day was the Barrel Race, a traditional western game that showed the rider’s skill in turning his horse 360 degrees around each of three barrels positioned in a triangle of 25 meters in between them. Again running by two’s, the fastest time wins. Here there was no lack of spins and spills around the barrels, with fallen riders scrambling to get back on the saddle to catch up with his opponent. The sport of horseback riding being a family sport, a special feature in this race was one among the kiddies who, this early have been hooked by the sport following their parents’ unique hobby. They future horsemen were given a medal each as an early incentive.

Another kind of competition merited approval from the crowd – the carabao race. The three contestants with their owner-riders on board raced their way in what appeared to be like a wild goose chase around the oval, eliciting equally wild cheers from the spectators. The intense heat limited the carabaos to only one lap however. Not to be outdone, the tallest of horses (58” and above) under Category A came next. To many of the excited spectators who had never seen an actual horse race before, the race vividly brought images of real horse racing in old Sta. Ana, Manila (now held in Carmona, Cavite) shown on TV. It was that real.

As the piercing Mati sun slowly mellowed in the horizon, the most-awaited part of the tournament – the awarding of winners – had come. It was the moment of reckoning and here the horseman and horsewoman faced either the fulfilment or the demise of their dream to ride to glory, win and snatch the trophy. As each winner’s name was called to come up to the podium: third, second or champion, the spirit of discovery, of sportsmanship, of fellowship that reigned over the successful 1st Davao Oriental Horse Show & Competition was winding down. Soon, it would be time to move the horses slowly back home, near and far, and reminisce the wonderful moments of the weekend just past. In the future, Dahican will no longer just see surf boards but saddles as well. For indeed, horse sport has come to Davao Oriental.

Davao Oriental Governor Nelson L. Dayanghirang leading the Parade of Horses at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1st Davao Oriental Horse Show & Competition.

Davao Oriental Governor Nelson L. Dayanghirang leading the Parade of Horses at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1st Davao Oriental Horse Show & Competition.

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