The Soma Nomaoi horse festival is held every year in the town of Souma. There is a huge procession of 450 horses and shrine people and the only people who can ride the horses are from samurai families. They start training kids to ride these horses at a young age. One of my students who’s 18 has been doing it every year for 15 years! The riders go out in full samurai garb, with flags on their back. They would come up to the podium and announce their family names to the person in charge, and audience members. Definitely felt royal!
There were also shrine horses, fatter and stockier than the riding horses, and were wrapped with shrine decorations. To be honest, they looked like sacrifices about to get burned for the gods! There were a couple of shrine mikoshi that were run up a zigzaggy hill. They would have a great start, and then slow down a bit towards the top. We cheered them on to complete their run!
The main event includes horse racing and a sort of capture the flag. Some of the horses get a little excited, and would throw their riders and run around the track until they tire out. During a race, a riderless horse finished 2nd!
In “Capture the Flag”, cannons shoot into the air a container that explodes and releases flags that fall to the ground. The riders and their horses would race in the direction of the flag in order to grab them. Sometimes they even end up on the ground fighting over the flag. On this particular day, it was really windy, so flags would fly out of the ring and into the audience. It was hilarious to see a bunch of horses and their riders piling at one end of the ring, and then realizing, “aww…”