At only 14, Ari is already a celebrity jockey at the local Sengeda Racecourse of Karang Rejo village in Bukit district, Bener Meriah regency, Aceh.
During a recent race, Ari finished crossed the finish line to claim the championship amid the applause and cheers of spectators.
With a broad smile, Ari led his horse to the podium to receive their well-deserved prize.
“I expected this horse to win, it runs fast enough to beat all competitors,” Ari said, a little out of breath.
Ari won four races that day riding four racehorses. The horses’ owners trusted him as their jockey because of his experience and skills in handling the animals. He is also considered to be a “lucky little jockey” who started his racing career last year, and is respected by his challengers.
Horse owners can hire anyone to be their jockey. A good jockey will have constant work, and their fees increase in accordance with their racing record. Jockeys’ pay scale follows no strict standards, and can range from a few hundred thousand to millions of rupiah.
“It depends on the horse owner, there is no fixed rate,” said Ari.
Ari finds working as a jockey enjoyable and challenging. Nearly all men in the Gayo highlands of Aceh are horse riders, but only a handful are jockeys that compete in bareback racing.
Traditional horse racing has lasted through the generations in the Gayo highlands, and the event is usually held after the local harvest season.
Today, the tradition has become a regular event in the three highland regencies of Gayo Lues, Bener Meriah and Central Aceh.
Unusually, highland horse racing always involves young jockeys aged between 12 and 18. Unlike conventional horse racing, Gayo races do not use saddles.
The adolescent jockeys do not just aim for the race prizes; they also compete for the pride and honor of winning a race.