This joyous, noisy and slightly chaotic tradition marks the start of the sowing season, and a festival atmosphere reigned in this rice-growing province in the east of the country on Sunday.

"Before the start of the race, we are a little excited and nervous," said Sompong Ratanasatien, 33, who struggled to catch his breath after the race, soaked from head to toe.

The first seconds are the most delicate, he assures, when the riders have to contain their heavy team while waiting for the official whistle to cross the starting line.

Traditional buffalo race to celebrate the start of the rice sowing season in Chonburi, Thailand, June 26, 2022 Manan VATSYAYANA AFP

"After that, it's all about your buffalo and how it adapts to your skills," says Ratanasatien, a multiple winner with his two-year-old male Kao.

Under the blows of a metal-tipped bamboo whip, the usually placid cattle metamorphose, only to run wild for the time of the aquatic race.

Competitors are chosen based on their weight and height.

Larger creatures generally go slower, but maneuvering them requires much more skill from their human teammates.

And the runners, who prepare and train with the animals for weeks, do not always have the upper hand.

They often get dragged through the mud during accidental false starts.

"I don't think normal people can do that," said fan Within Lueanguksorn, 38, who traveled from Bangkok to watch the races.

“There is a relationship between them,” humans and their beasts, he says.

A young runner and his team during a traditional buffalo race, which celebrates the start of the rice sowing season in Chonburi, Thailand, on June 26, 2022 Manan VATSYAYANA AFP

At the end of the final sprint, the buffaloes tumble down in shambles and at full speed, failing to overthrow the spectators crazy enough to stand near the finish line.

"It can be a little dangerous if the buffaloes run too close to each other, it can cause an accident - so riders need to be careful," said runner Noppadon Yindeesuk, 45.

This 45-year-old runner is racing two of his buffaloes, Parewa and Pete, worth around 150,000 baht (4,000 euros) each.

A runner waters his buffaloes during a traditional race that celebrates the start of the rice sowing season in Chonburi, Thailand, on June 26, 2022 Manan VATSYAYANA AFP

"They are over two years old and they won the race last year," he said with a broad smile, adding that he trains with them every three or four days.

For Noppadon Yindeesuk as for many others, the spectacle offered on Sunday goes beyond sports entertainment: "I am participating in the race because I am trying to preserve our traditions of Chonburi: good buffaloes, and good rice" .

© 2022 AFP

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