„The way to heaven is on horseback.“
A young boy stares wide-eyed through narrow slits in a cotton hat, as his tiny fingers clutch a hor- se’s mane, knuckles white. The animal bucks repeatedly as men wrestle it into a starting box. It takes sev-eral minutes to get the horse in position as all the while the boy holds on tight, his legs wrapped around the horse’s belly. At last, the gun fires... The gate flies open. Horse and boy are unleashed from the starting box. They gallop away down the track alongside five other horses and their small riders, accompanied by the sound of cracking whips and screaming men. The jockey’s name is Fir-man. He is five years old. The scene takes place in Bima, on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. Firman is one of many child jo- ckeys there. Riders of Destiny follows Firman and another young boy, Sila, aged 7, as they participate in a season of traditional horse racing. Sumbawa is one of the poorest regions in In-donesia. The land yields barely anything, and there are few options of making money. The level of education is minimal, and in the fight for sur¬vival, becoming a jockey is often the best hope for cash-strapped families. It’s one of the main reasons the tradition of racing has endured for centuries. Fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers all rode as children, but they compete in truly appalling conditions, and they keep getting younger. While their ancestors began at 10, child jockeys of today often get their first taste at three. In Indonesia it is illegal for children under 15 years of age to work – but that doesn’t stop horse owners from buying talented riders at increasingly earlier ages. Why? Because the horses of Sumbawa are small, and so the smaller and lighter the jockey, the faster the horse. Racing in Sumbawa is big business, and locals enjoy betting on the outcome - even though gambling here is illegal. Officials turn a blind eye. In fact, horse racing has never been more popular. The market for the pint-sized jockeys is hugely competitive, and one jockey is able to feed his family for an entire genera- tion. And so these young boys gamble with their lives to fulfill their parents’ dreams of making a fast buck. Accidents are frequent. Many riders get crippled, and some die.
A Co Production Seventyone Films / Encompass Films