Wednesday August 15, 2018

Horse sport comes to Davao Oriental

THEY came, in trucks, trailers and pick-ups, 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, Malaybalay and the Misamis Oriental-Bukidnon Horsemen’s Associations; from the north, the Agusan del Sur horsemen; from Southern Mindanao, the Davao Horse Club and the Davao del Sur horsemen; and from within the province, the Manayboro (horsemen from Manay town) and the Mati Ranchers.

Held last 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.

As one of the highlights of the 51st Founding Anniversary of the Province, it started with a Parade of Horses at the Opening Ceremonies, with the host, Governor Nelson Dayanghirang 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 Uy and other officials.

Horse enthusiast Judge Emilio Dayanghirang III led the Oath of Sportsmanship. Sydney-based Davaoena equestrian Chiara Amor, who at 20 has joined show jumping competitions in Europe and in Asia, was a 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 cheered the local jockeys who braved the races for the first time.

The obstacle races followed – 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 zigzag around six poles.

After, 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.

Youngsters, ladies and men battled it out in their respective categories with quite a few falling into the mud pit, rider and horse, only to get back on the saddle and resume the race.

The categories were: 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 hosted by the governor awaited the horsemen in the first evening of the two-day event. Jamming with the local band ensued, led by Agusan del Sur’s foremost horseman, Mayor Edwin Elorde of Bunawan town - first individually accompanied by his ukulele, and later with his brothers Donald and Alvin. Their wives, Carlyn, Wen and Aileen, dressed in the de regueur Western attire for all horse shows, followed with their own trio number, while Chelo Tan of the Davao Horse Club performed a mean Bonnie Tyler piece.

The second and last day of the tournament found the different horse groups, led by Philippine Horsemen’s Federation president Gerardo Olaguer, participating in the civic parade celebrating the Province’s Foundation Day in downtown Mati City before the competition resumed.

First was the Best Groomed Horse contest that required the horse contestants led by the owner to parade around the judging area much like in a beauty pageant. Each horse’s conformation, hoof condition, grooming and general behavior were checked by the veterinarian judges. Winner was a gelding horse named Marco, an Arabian-Thoroughbred mix owned by Davao’s Nikki Boy Gonzales.

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 with 25 meters in between them.

Again the fastest time wins. 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 the opponent. The sport of horseback riding being a family sport, a special feature was the race among the kiddies (3 to 5 years old) who this early have been hooked by the sport following their parents’ unique hobby. The 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 raced their way in what appeared to be like a wild goose chase around the oval, eliciting wild cheers and laughter from the spectators. The intense heat limited the carabaos to only one lap however.

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 (and cash to boot)!

As each winner was called to come up to the podium: third or 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 in their trailers and trucks slowly back home, near and far, while reminiscing the wonderful moments of the weekend just past. In the future, the famous Dahican coast will no longer just see surf boards but saddles as well. For indeed, horse sport has come to Davao Oriental. (George Walter Misa)