An old-fashioned horse race

February 15, 2012

By Kacper Pempel

Last weekend I was in the Polish Tatra Mountains to cover traditional horse racing, which marks the end of the annual Highlanders’ Festival, known as the Goralski Karnawal. The race is a competition involving riders; two on every sledge, pulled by horses, referred to in Polish highlander’s dialect as kumoterska gonba, or more commonly “Kumoterki.” The name comes from the type of small sledge used, from past till now, to transport godparents for religious occasions in the area of Podhale.

I wanted to find out how they make komuterki sledges, so I met with folk artist Jan Bieniek who still produces them by hand in a traditional way from a special kind of wood. He is also a judge on the jury of the Kumoterki race. This year, he offered a hand-made sledge especially made for this occasion as one of the prizes. It took him two weeks to make.

I also met with one of the participants of the race, Wojtek Bucki Jr., whose entire family is deeply involved in the highlander festival, especially with all the events involving horses. He was practicing on the track with his uncle Andrzej Bucki and his cousins Bartek Chowaniec and Jan Kuchta a day before the race.

I stayed in Bucki’s family home to watch their preparation for the Sunday events. They treat “Kumoterki” as a very important event, not only as a competition but also as an occasion to meet with other highlanders and take part in a parade called parada gazdowska.

Zofia, Wojtek Junior’s mother of Wojtek Senior’s wife had to clean and varnish all horse decorations from brass. Zofia performs this duty ahead of special occasions, “kumoterki”, “parada gazdowska” and weddings. “It is a shame for a highlander’s family if you can’t see your image reflecting in brass decorations” she said.

I woke up with them early Sunday morning, with a beautiful sunrise over the mountains of Bukowina Tatrzanska, to take pictures of their preparation. Zofia and her daughters were finishing cleaning the decorations and preparing traditional clothes. Men in the horse stable and outside were preparing horses for the parade and kumoterki race. Then we rode on a sledge through the village to where all the events took place.

The residents of Tatra Mountains are very traditional, patriotic people and devoted Catholics. The festival is one of the events that puts traditional culture of their land on display to outsiders. During the Sunday events like the Kumoterki race and Gazdowska and Kumoterska parades, families present their horses with sledges, traditional clothes and habits.

This year, some 30 horses took part in Gazdowska and Kumoterska parades. In different races, like kumoterki race skjoring and skiskjoring races, there were 24 participants and about 20 horses.

Many of the horses trip and fall around the sharp curves, but fortunately none of them or the riders were seriously injured.

After a whole day of attractions we came back to Bucki’s house to celebrate their victory in Kumoterska and Gazdowska parade competition.

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