Horse racing is a dangerous sport at the best of times. More than 100 professional jockeys have died in England and Northern Ireland since 1950, and the situation is no different in other countries where horse racing is popular. Safety improvements have led to a reduction in the deaths and substantive injuries of both jockeys and horses, but the fact remains that racing horses is dangerous. Nevertheless, some races are more dangerous than others!
Horses are unpredictable herd animals, prone to running away in the face of a perceived threat. When you factor in difficult terrain, the presence of other skittish animals, and a baying crowd, you have the makings of a disaster. All of this and more makes the following extreme horse races some of the most dangerous in the world.
The Palio di Siena
The Palio di Siena in Italy is a famous horse race dating back to the 1600s. Ten horses and riders compete in the race, which takes place through the city’s sandy central square, the Piazzo del Campo. Each rider represents his neighbourhood. Riders ride bareback and there are no rules. It is a dangerous free-for-all where testosterone-fuelled young men and excitable stallions do everything in their power to be the winner. Huge crowds turn up for this annual race and the stakes are high. Catastrophic falls are common as riders and horses jockey for position on the race circuit.
Animal rights activists say the race is too stressful and dangerous for the horses. They have begun campaigning to stop the race, but the locals are passionate about their famous race and the event attracts huge crowds every year.
The Velka Pardubicka
The Velka Pardubicka in the Czech Republic is challenging because of the obstacles the horses have to navigate on the racetrack. Unlike the famous Grand National in the UK, which has some formidable fences, the Velka Pardubicka takes place over ploughed fields and turf, for 6.9 kilometres. The race has been run since 1874 and it is still just as dangerous today as it was back then.
The most fearsome obstacle is the Taxis Ditch, which is 8 metres wide and 140cm high. Seasoned jockeys have described this formidable jump as the most difficult in the world, and 30 horses have perished there in the history of the race.
The Velka Pardubicka is a high-stakes extreme horse race where the odds are stacked against rider and horse, which is why it pays to know more about who is competing before placing a bet. For more great horse racing tips, check out the ITV Seven tips.
The White Turf Moritz
Horse racing takes place at St Moritz every February. Horses and riders race on the frozen expanses of the lake, in the shadow of snow-capped mountains. Thanks to the beautiful scenery, this is an amazing spectacle, but the dangers inherent in galloping over ice should not be underestimated.
One young jockey, George Baker, almost lost his life there in 2017, when his horse slipped and fell on top of him as the ice gave way under its hooves. Baker recovered (eventually), but he’ll never race again.
Never underestimate the dangers of horse racing, both for the riders and their mounts. Remember, the faster the horses go, the more likely the riders are to fall and sustain serious or fatal injuries.