ISLAMABAD: In a rural corner of Pakistan, the thrill and pageantry of bull racing offers a welcome distraction from the daily grind of village life and insecurity.

Thousands of villagers gathered in a dusty field in Pind Sulthani, a village about 80km from Islamabad on Tuesday, watching men balancing precariously on a wooden sled race a pair of bulls.

Bull owner Danish Akram said the centuries-old pastime was popular form of entertainment for rural Pakistanis weary of insecurity and insurgent attacks. “Where there is rampant terrorism and other different type of issues, events like this take the people’s attentions away from their problems,” he told Reuters Television.

In Pind Sultani, village elders decide when to hold the event, which attracts spectators from the surrounding area. It is held in winter, after the crops have been harvested, so people can gather in the open fields.

Racers hired by bull owners try to stay on the sled while the bovines, tied together by heavy wooden frames, hurtle towards the finish line.

Sometimes the racers lose their balance, sending the animals charging into the crowd.

Village elder Sardar Asif Ali Khan said the bulls are bred for racing. They eat vitamin-rich feed and get regular massages.

A bull owner might need two buffaloes to provide milk for one bull, he said, and employ up to two men to care for the animal.

In the past, the prize for winning a race was land or cattle. Today, it’s more likely to be a washing machine or a TV set.

“All this is done for this one day. A bull can only race once in a month, not more than that,” Khan said.