By Hafzi Mohamed
KOTA BHARU (Bernama) -- It is not uncommon to see kids as young as seven riding horses by the coastal villages in Kelantan – bareback and barefooted.
Horse riding and breeding is a Kelantanese tradition that many Malaysians are not aware of. Here, owners are not only from among the wealthy but from among fishermen and farmers as well.
Horse racing is a common sport in these villages, with competitions held once or twice a month. It is therefore not surprising that the state has even produced world-class jockeys.
One of them is 31-year-old Mohd Nasrizi Mohd Nawi, who has trained in racing horses and winning competitions from the tender age of 13.
It is not easy to tame a horse, he says, much less to teach it to run at full speed. There is therefore a sense of accomplishment that comes with the ability to teach a horse to run a race course.
“To teach it to gallop at top speed, a jockey must first have a good relationship with his horse. Developing proper interaction with the horse allows it to become attuned to its rider’s touch and intentions,” he told Bernama in an interview.
Jockeys who often talk to their horse would also find their equine friend more receptive to their instructions, says Mohd Nasrizi, who hails from Kampung Taman Buaya, Pantai Cahaya Bulan.
RACE HORSE JOCKEY
He remembers the race that eventually became the start of his career as a jockey.
"I was still in Form One at the time and was getting ready to race against my friends at Pantai Cahaya Bulan. However, my horse decided to retreat while my friends’ horses raced ahead.
“I wasn’t worried because I knew how to talk to my horse and coaxed it into the right direction. My horse galloped ahead, and we went on to win the race. Since then, horse owners have been seeking my services to ride their horses as a jockey,” he said.
These days, he not only trains horses but people who are interested in training to become a jockey as well.
Mohd Nasrizi said his equestrian knowledge was mostly self-taught due to his deep passion for working with horses.
To become a good jockey, he said, one would not only need to become a good rider but be on the lighter side of the scale as well. The lighter the jockey, the faster the horse.
“That is why many of the jockeys are schoolchildren. Majority of them are trained from as young as 10 years old. As for weight, they should ideally be 45kg or less, depending on the category of horses in competition,” he explained.
Training kids to ride from young comes with the added advantage of giving both horse and rider a longer time to develop strong trust and bond.
“Jockeys also need to be bold and not afraid of falling off horses or getting trampled. Courage is needed to handle a horse,” he said.
Mohd Nasrizi himself has fallen off horses multiple times. Some falls have even resulted in facial injuries that required stitches.
“Even at age 13 I have fallen and hurt myself from being kicked by a horse,” he revealed.
TRAINING A RACE HORSE
Mohd Nasrizi owns two horses. Both horses are a mixed breed of the local kuda padi (pony) and the Anglo-Arabian.
The most commonly found horses in Kelantan are kuda padi, the Kelantan mixed-breed and the Anglo-Arabian. The ones owned by Mohd Nasrizi are the one most commonly kept and bred.
The Kelantan mixed-breed are the hardiest ones against disease and erratic weather conditions, he said. In addition to that, the horses are also cheapest to feed as it also consumes grass. Such horses are sold by grade and go for RM6,000 to RM10,000 each.
The Anglo-Arabian, which a crossbreed of the Throughbred and the Arabian, are typically sold for RM15,000 each.
“The local mixed-breed have unique qualities. It is not afraid of water and can swim quite deep in it, is hardy and of course, cheaper than the Anglo-Arabian,” said Mohd Nasrizi.
The race horses are trained to do 400-metre sprints to get them familiarised with real racing conditions. They are also trained on sandy surfaces like the beach and in the water to build muscle strength.
Training in water helps the horse perform last minute sprints on race day, he says.
“Training horses takes a tremendous amount of time and dedication. Horses can sometimes refuse to move or follow directions so in such situations, the jockey needs to know how to coax them,” he said.
As some horses have to be trained from the wild, jockeys risk getting kicked, bitten and injured while riding.
“Wild horses need to be tamed before it can be ridden by anyone. Riders need to rub them, stroke them and interact with such horses first,” he said.
Riding bareback can be quite a challenge for new jockeys as it requires excellent balancing skills. However, going saddleless can be fun once they have mastered the proper techniques.
“Riding bareback means the jockey needs to properly position himself on the horse. A wrong position will add weight to the horse and prevent it from reaching full speed,” he said, and added that it was easier to control the speed of a saddled horse.
He hoped that more parties would consider organising equine-related events such as horse races in Kelantan, given the high interest in from among the locals. In addition to attracting more youths into the sport, it could also serve as tourism product.
Translated by Sakina Mohamed