Four participants in the Thai water buffalo race sprint barefoot trying to control their beasts galloping across a decorated paddy field, amid screaming fans who come to the Chonburi province every year to attend the contest, reported Agence France Press (AFP).
The riotously noisy, and slightly chaotic annual tradition marks the beginning of the rice planting season -- with the festival-like atmosphere in the eastern province.
“Before the race starts, we are a little excited and nervous,” said Sompong Ratanasatien, 33, drenched and breathing heavily after his latest bout.
The trickiest point was the start line, he said, where racers must wait for the official start whistle as they attempt to maneuver the heavy beasts into position and keep them calm.
“After that it depends on our buffalo and how he matches with my skills,” said Ratanasatien, who was enjoying a winning streak with his two-year-old bovine Kao.
Urged on with a small metal-tipped bamboo whip, the usually placid animals are unrecognizable as they rampage down the watery field.
Bouts are divided according to weight and size, with the heaviest creatures slightly slower to a practiced eye but requiring significantly more skill to control.
And the racers, who work and train with the buffalos for weeks in preparation, don't always have the upper hand, as the hapless human racers were literally dragged through the mud.
"I think normal people cannot do it," said Within Lueanguksorn, 38, who had travelled from Bangkok to watch the races. "There is a relation between the people and buffalos," he added.
The animals often looked close to careening out of control as they thundered across the finish line, scattering any spectator foolish enough to stand nearby.