Horses are the stars of 'Squid Game' at Horsefest 2021 in Clark

Yes, you read the title right. This time, it's the horses that will try to beat each other to be the last one standing. And you can only get to see this one-of-a-kind event in the upcoming Horsefest this weekend, Nov. 20-21, 2021, at El Kabayo Horseback Riding, Clark, Pampanga.

One the horse games in the festival, the Jump O Rock.

But hold your horses, El Kabayo owner and Horsefest organizer Rina Villavicencio-la ‘O doesn't want yet to reveal what specific game from the Netflix Korean series the horses will play. Now, that’s a good reason to be at the festival!

The Horsefest is an annual event organized by Clark (El Kabayo) Riding Stable Inc., which gathers horse enthusiasts from Luzon, which includes Tarlac, Tagaytay, Baguio, among others. For its 13th year, the festival will not only continue to show tourists different disciplines of horses but will also treat them with a two-day fun-filled à la State fair that will strictly follow the health protocols imposed by the IATF (Inter Agency Task Force).

According to Rina, there will only be 40 participants this year compared to pre-pandemic years where they can accommodate more than 50. However, apart from the squid game, spectators will still experience the same entertainment just like from the previous celebrations when they see the horses with their riders go through obstacle courses in the Hunter-Jumper competition, race against the clock while passing patterns in the Barrel Racing challenge, and jump the highest bar in the Jump O Rock game.

To make the free-admission festival a more fun-filled event, the organizers will also host a Market Place offering a wide array of food, including delicacies from Pampanga and non-food items that are worth bringing home. “We established the market place in order for us to help people from the tourism industry who were greatly affected by the pandemic and ended up selling items,” said Rina.

Rina, who we met during a recent NLEX Lakbay Norte in Pampanga, is so passionate to bring back the happiness the festival gives through coming up with new activities that tourists will surely enjoy despite the ongoing pandemic.

A relaxing horseback ride at El Kabayo.

“Continuing the festival and coming up with other activities here in El Kabayo are all born out of love,” explained Rina. “It’s rooted from the passion of my husband Gabby, who, at an early age, dreamt to have a cowboy town, which he could share with everyone — young and old, rich or poor. He derives joy by making people enjoy a horse ride.”

Horse enthusiasts and El Kabayo owners Rina and Gabby la-'O.

The couple, who are part of "NLEX Humans of the North," opened El Kabayo to the public in 2008 with intentions to eliminate the misconception that horseback riding is only for the elite. For people to appreciate horseback riding more, they included a full ride activity that doesn't limit riders only in their wide open space trail covered with huge acacia trees, but also near breathtaking views and other tourist spots inside and outside Clark, such as Sacobia river, Handuan hanging bridge, American bunkers, and others. Rina recalled that they discovered some of the trails during the height of the pandemic when they needed to exercise the horses.

Horseback riding at the Sacobia river trail.

El Kabayo is reinventing its facilities to give people more ways to relax and enjoy during these stressful times. Apart from the cowboy town’s horseback riding, camping, café and restaurants, shops, and Horsefest, visitors could soon rent a car or bike.

The rustic cowboy town showcases antique shops, a cafe, and restaurants.

The couple believes that while the pandemic affects us all, they continue to “keep the lights on” through coming up new ideas to help the equine and tourism industries rebound stronger and jump higher like never before!