Equine welfare campaigners have renewed their efforts to bring about change in the Palio di Siena horse race in Italy, after another horse died.
In the second 2018 running of the centuries-old race in Siena, Italy, last month (20 October) video shows a chestnut horse suffer a crashing fall on a sharp corner of the town square, losing his jockey in the process.
Bowled over and then repeatedly hit by the other horses, the chestnut can be seen staggering to its feet but had clearly badly broken a front leg in the fall.
As the volume of the thousands-strong crowd rises to ear-splitting levels, the stricken horse staggers pitifully on on three legs, as stewards run to his aid, and that of his fallen jockey.
It is understood that the horse, thought to be called Raol, an eight-year-old Anglo-Arab making his debut in the race for the Giraffe Contrada, was taken to a veterinary hospital for treatment but could not be saved.
An Italian welfare campaigner, who does not want to be named, told H&H she does not believe the Palio, which has been held twice a year since the 17th century, will ever be stopped.
“It’s such a tradition and so deeply rooted,” she said. “So in my opinion, it has to be changed.”
Readers may find the following video very distressing.
The Palio involves a horse from 10 of the town’s 17 contrade, or districts, (the remaining seven will take part in the next edition of the race) ridden bareback around the ancient square, the stone of which is covered with a sand mixture for the race.
But campaigners believe the surface is slippery, and that two corners, the San Martino and the Casato which are both at almost right-angles, are especially dangerous. Raol’s fall came at the Casato.
“Horses run in the Palio without knowing what’s going on, with thousands of people screaming and shouting, so they’re scared,” the campaigner said.
Horse deaths are part of the Palio; last month’s is thought to be the 51st since 1975.
“Lots of Italian people have been fighting to end this slaughter for a long time but to no avail,” the campaigner said. “The animal defence associations of Italy have been filing report after report on this race through the years, but there are too many political and economical interests behind it.”
“People in Siena say they care about the horses, and changes have been made for safety, to the ground and the type of horse used, which is probably true, but it’s not enough; the horses keep dying.”
She added that as the riders are bareback, they “just have the horses’ mouths to hang on to”.
“They’re off balance, so the horses are too,” she added. “The riders find their balance in the mouths of the horses – and the horses are scared. Maybe some of the older ones are ok if they’re more used to it but when young horses are making their debut; that’s scary.”
Those against the race would like to see major changes made.
“I’d love to see bigger horses, quieter ones, which would respect the tradition of the race,” the campaigner said. “I think something should really be done about the very dangerous turns, and I think it’s barbaric to ride with a bridle but no saddle.
“The dream would be not to have any animals in this historic event, but I know it’s just a dream.
The death of a six-year-old horse in the Palio of Siena last Saturday has reopened the debate about horses’ welfare
Animal rights activists are calling for a historic Italian race to be stopped following the death of a horse
“Something must be done and done soon, and I think letting people know about this ‘tradition’ abroad can really make the difference.”
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.