A Day at the Bull Races: Just Pure Fun!

A jockey gives one of his bulls a poke with the riding crop and his team charges down the track.














Tri Ton, Vietnam

Some photo shoots are just plain fun.

That was the case here in Tri Ton, Vietnam, a small Mekong village hugging the Cambodian border. On a track flooded with several inches of monsoon rain and several more inches of mud, the locals staged some annual bull races. The winners were destined to compete in the bigger provincial races coming this month.

The events are held to mark the end of the Khmer calendar at the end of September. It is also time to celebrate the moon festival and the conclusion of a successful fall crop harvest.

The track looks to be about a quarter mile around. Two bulls are attached to a device that looks half chariot and half sleigh. A jockey rides on the device, positioned between the bulls and standing on a plank of wood that skims on top of the water and mud as the bulls charge down the track. Two teams of bulls race during each heat.

The jockeys carry a wood riding crop with a pointed metal dip that they use to aggressively poke the bulls to make them run their fastest.

The bulls are not the brightest critters and are easily spooked. In fact, more often than not, a team will dramatically veer off course, charging into the crowds and sending spectators fleeing for safety. The police try and keep folks a safe distance off the track, but with little success.

The police also try with no success to keep photographers from jumping into the middle of the track to shoot the oncoming bulls. One policeman reprimanded me in Vietnamese, and so, observing his rubber baton, I politely agreed to step off the track. But after he left, another photographer told me, “You can ignore him. There is nothing he can do.” So, back out on the track we went. I was surprised how fast I could move my old self when it seemed the charging bulls appeared close enough to kiss my telephoto lens.

Final decisions about the winners are made by a group of judges. At one recent race, the fans were very angry with the outcome and chased the officials all over the muddy infield. It seems there was quite a bit of off-track and illegal wagers riding on the outcome of the race.

Folks here take their bull racing very seriously.

Before the race, jockeys lead their bulls from the holding pen for a review lap around the track.

Bull teams must be lined up single file for the review.

Everyone gets a chance to show off their team.


Even the review lap is a muddy affair for both jockey and bulls.

After the review, the bulls and jockeys assemble in center field for opening ceremonies.

Jockeys steady their bulls during the opening ceremonies.

Jockeys rest and socialize as they wait for the races to begin.

A jockey balances his riding crop across his shoulders as he talks with a fellow rider.

A jockey steadies his bull during the opening ceremony.

A jockey calms his bulls by stroking their heads and horns.

Already soaked from the review lap, this jockey is serious and focused for his race.




Most eyes turn to the track when it is time for the races to begin.

Baton happy police try and keep the crowds from getting too close but have little sway.

The races draw commentary from this spectator. Local folks take the races seriously.

And they're off but with this team already riding too close to the edge of the track.

A photographer gets sprayed with water and mud.

When the bulls bolt for the sidelines, it is time to run and run fast.

Bulls running off track happen more often than not. A jockey tries desperately to pull his bulls back…

…but ends up in the drink as the bulls charge into the crowd. Surprisingly there were no injuries.


Another bull team goes off track and leave their jockey wet and muddy.

Charging bulls show first signs they will go off track as photographers flee.

Two bull teams charge down the track in tight competition.

This bull team is charging hard but also very close to going into the fans.

After a race, the bulls have to be brought under control and led off the track.

It is a spectacle when two teams are on track and in a tight race.

A jockey and his bulls pull ahead in the final stretch to win their heat.

A final shot: A jockey and his bulls focused on center track and headed to victory.










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