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Musical chairs & more at Jorhat derby

Jorhat, Feb. 17: Horses and a game of musical chairs don’t seem to match. Until one attends the historic Jorhat Races, which feature a Mising tug-of-war among other regular events like a car rally, golf and tennis.

Organised by the Jorhat Gymkhana Club, the 133rd edition of the races will commence here tomorrow. Dubbed the oldest major sporting event in the region, Mising riders converge from various parts of the Upper Assam districts to try their luck for the Governor’s Cup.

The annual event, popularly known as the Jorhat derby, is a continuation of the British legacy.

The British planters had started the horse races, with the high-breed horses used by them for transportation. As other modes of transportation took over, native breeds from the Mising villages along the Brahmaputra replaced the high-breed horses.

The Mising riders who participate in the races mostly hail from Jhanjimukh and Amguri in Sivasagar district, and are adept at riding bareback.

Jitendar Bhamra, a member of the organising committee, said the horse musical chairs would add a measure of fun to the competitions.

He added that this time, the Assam Equestrian Federation at Dibrugarh would not participate as it was scheduled for some other programmes.

Tennis and golf player Pallab Baruah explained how the horse musical chairs are played.

The horses go around the chairs with their jockeys. When the music stops, they have to be reined in and the jockeys get down and occupy the chairs. The Mising tug-of-war will have the organisers on one side and the Mising jockeys on the other, he said.

“As the Mising jockeys are the main participants in the horse races, we have scheduled these events for Friday, to give them some respite from the stress of the competition, the last day of which will be Saturday,” he added.

Bhamra said the exact number of participants would be known tomorrow after the jockeys start coming in.

However, the four hybrid horses bought by Jorhat Gymkhana Club last year and the four Mising jockeys who were trained by the Assam Equestrian Federation to handle these horses, are likely to participate.

The races will begin with a golf tournament from 6am and tennis matches from 9am on the first day, the horse races will begin from 11.30am on Tuesday, and the car rally will be held from 9am on Thursday.

Assam governor J.B. Patnaik is slated to give away the Governor’s Cup on the last day.

A riding exhibition has been arranged on Friday and a dog show by Assam Rifles Dog Unit, Jorhat, on Wednesday.

“The riders, drawn from indigenous communities, have a long tradition of horsemanship. The community locally breeds the ponies and there is an urgent need to invest in breed preservation, as their numbers are gradually dwindling. The event is one of its kind and deserves to listed as a heritage event for promotion and conservation,” said Manoj Jalan of the Equestrian Federation of Assam.

“Moreover, this year, an innovative filmmaker is weaving the story of a Mising rider who has achieved fame abroad as a jockey and shooting the film against the backdrop of the races. We are hoping that as a result, we will see more participation from the Assamese film and music fraternity,” Prabhat Bezbaruah the president, Jorhat Races, said.