An historic Italian race has caused further controversy after a horse died during a trial.

Siena’s Palio takes place twice a year and sees horses race through the streets of the Tuscan town.

However, the race frequently receives criticism from animal welfare activists as many horses have been trampled or killed during the race in the past.

The Palio draws tens of thousands of spectators and the main event is set to take place today (Thursday, 2 July).

However, during a trial race on Monday (29 June), a mare called Periclea (not pictured) sustained fatal injuries and was later put down.

The Telegraph reported that Periclea, a seven-year-old mare competing in her first Palio, stumbled on the hind legs of the horse in front and fell awkwardly.

Now an animal rights group is calling for today’s race (not pictured) to be cancelled and all further races to be suspended.

Politician and activist Michela Vittoria Brambilla posted the call for the ban on the Italian Federation of Animal Rights and Environment’s website following Periclea’s death.

Ms Brambilla, who is president of the organistation, described the race as “senseless and cruel”.

She said it tarnishes the image of their country abroad and horrifies millions.

She added: “Today the mare Periclea has paid the ultimate tribute to a tradition that no longer has any reason to exist, except for the interest and selfishness of a few.”

The mare is reportedly the 50th horse to die in the event since 1970 and this is not the first time that Ms Brambilla and others have called for it to be stopped.

The first officially documented modern Palio took place in 1656.

A total of 17 jockeys, representing the 17 districts of the city, ride bareback in the race that lasts about 90 seconds.

The winning jockey is carried off on the shoulders of the crowd and the banner – which is the actual Palio – is handed down to them.