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Howie Severino

Bareback horse racing in Baguio

April 1, 2009 6:00pm




LA TRINIDAD, Benguet -- Darting between jeeps and avoiding
pedestrians, 15-year-old Bryan Lee is riding like the wind. His horse
Palomino appears unperturbed by the chaos of the city as he and his
master gallop towards their date with destiny. It's the day before the
big race that Bryan has been looking forward to for months.



The son of a doctor, Bryan will be racing against the pony boys of
Wright Park in Baguio, youths toughened by poverty and the daily
chores of caring for dozens of frisky horses. Bryan is like any shy
teen-ager who likes hanging out with friends. But he also has the
blood of the Ibaloi cowboy streaking through his veins.



Before the Americans arrived a hundred years ago to build Baguio, much
of Benguet province was cowboy country. Horses and cattle ruled the
land where Session Road and Burnham Park are today. Today the grazing
lands are all gone, replaced by pavement and buildings. The horses are
now confined to small spaces like Wright Park where children and their
parents can ride them while being pulled by pony boys, most of them
descendants of Ibaloi cowboys. In their spare time, these young men
ride their wards around the park at break-neck speed and race against
each other. Howie Severino and his team decide to focus their lens not
on one of the Ibalois but on their adopted brother Samson, a stable
boy from Pangasinan who has learned to love and ride horses like a
native. And now he dreams of locating his long-lost youngest brother
and teaching him to be a pony boy in Wright Park so they can finally
be together.

Every year, the pony boys' association invites visiting racers to
challenge them in a gymkhana, a traditional series of races on their
dusty home track: Wright Park's riding oval. Bryan won a big race last
year and now a year older and stronger, he is favored to beat the pony
boys again. But the locals are determined to win this time, pairing
their fastest horses with their most skilled riders. Samson is
preparing his favorite horse Silver Blade to beat all challengers and
has recruited the Ibaloi champion Paul Bagnos to ride him.

Bryan's grandfather too was an Ibaloi cowboy but he died before Bryan
was born. But even before his teens, he learned to love horses and
soon became one of the fastest racers in all of Benguet. His father is
a local politician, his mother a pediatrician, yet his best friends
are fellow horse lovers, some of them out of school youths who care
for the horses owned by others. Bryan is idolized by a talented girl
rider younger than he who has also entered the races in Wright Park,
one of the few girls to do so. Shaila Esteban too is the apo of Ibaloi
cowboys. But her strict father is threatening not to permit her to be
absent from class on that day.

On the day of the races, a crowd has gathered to see if Bryan
continues his winning ways. It's uncertain if Shaila will be excused
from school. Silver Blade appears to be in tip-top shape. A series of
surprises awaits the protagonists. It becomes a day Bryan will never
forget, and not for the reason he was hoping for.

(This I-Witness documentary airs Monday night, 12 midnight Manila time
on GMA7, a day or two delayed on PinoyTv overseas)


Executive producer: Nowell Cuanang
Cameraman: Disney Carreon
Researcher: Cris Sto. Domingo
Writer/narrator: Howie Severino

Vintage photo courtesy of Jack CariƱo.