Sene Don Ta is one of the three major traditional festivals celebrated by the Khmer people living in southern Vietnam. This festival is an occasion for the Khmer community to express their gratitude to their ancestors, and it is also when the Bay Nui (Seven Mountains) Cow Race is held, an exciting event quite popular among the Khmer people.
Thorough preparations are completed prior the race. The track is set up in a flat field, approximately 200m in length, 100 m in width. The area is flooded with water, just enough to cover the ground, and dug up several times to ensure the mud is slippery. The track is surrounded by a boundary wall, and the destination area is kept as an open space, a safe place for the cows to stop. The starting line is marked by a succession of green and red flags, each about 5m apart, the same as the finish line.
Each pair of cows must race directly toward the finish line, aiming for the gate with the same colour flags as where they started. While racing, any pair running out of the track boundaries will be disqualified.
Each pair of cows is attached to something like a rake, dragging a wooden plank about 30cm wide and 90cm long on which the driver stands. The cattle driver must remain standing firmly on the plank; if he falls off or is thrown out of bounds he will be disqualified.
The drivers use a rattan whip or a wooden rod with a nail attached to the end to direct the cows. At the start of the race, the drivers use the whip or rod on the cows to make them run fast. The trick is to get both cows running together at the same speed to stay straight on the track. This challenge makes the cow race different from horse racing which, with each person riding just one horse, is only about speed; whoever reaches the finish line first wins.
Cow Racing Festival this year
The 2012 Seven Mountains Cow Race is the 21st race which has been held successfully, and attracted about 30,000 spectators. 64 pairs of cows entered from various districts and gathered at Seven Mountains, An Giang Province, for the competition.
The first prize, consisting of cash and presents valued at 30 million VND, was won by Mr. Tran Van Cac and his pair of cows. In addition, Mr. Bup of Tri Ton District won the second prize with his pair of cows, and Mr. Sang won third prize, with other incentive awards.
According to local people, this festival started from the habit of Khmer youths of racing cows for entertainment and physical exercise during their free time. Since then, the cow races have become a part of the annual festival.