Horses are the unwitting victims of illegal sulky races on Irish roads, an animal welfare charity says.
The Irish SPCA says it has found horses and ponies abandoned after sustaining substantial serious injuries believed to have been the result of illegal sulky racing.
It was commenting following an illegal sulky race that was filmed on the main Cork to Mallow Road a week ago, which made international headlines.
The footage showed the two harnessed horses being manoeuvred through traffic in the contest.
At one point one of the horses was eased to the left to escape the path of an oncoming truck.
The Irish SPCA said the race highlighted the dangers of such sulky racing to horses and ponies.
It said the race may have shocked most of the Irish public, but it was by no means a new phenomenon.
“While, very fortunately, nobody was injured during last weekend’s race, the animals involved have not always been so lucky,” Chief Inspector Conor Dowling said.
The Irish SPCA has come to the aid of many ponies injured as a result of trotting on hard surfaces, he said.
“The risks to the animals involved in these races are great,” Dowling said.
“The ponies are travelling at high speeds and if they collide with anything or simply stumble and fall, the results can be devastating.”
The charity has found several ponies which have been abandoned after sustaining serious injuries while trotting. Some of the injuries seen on different animals are strikingly similar.
While races such as that shown in the video are obviously dangerous, the risks to the animals involved are not confined to the races themselves, Dowling said.
“Accidents can quite easily occur during the training of these ponies and horses also and the consequences are no less severe.
“In addition the joints of the animals take a pounding when trotting on hard surfaces which can cause permanent damage, particularly when young ponies and horses are involved.”
The video of the highly publicised race showed police trying to stop the competitors.
Police have described the race as a clear breach of road rules and were preparing a file for the director of public prosecutions.
A man in his 20s was arrested for public order offences, but was released without charge.
A representative of the Pavee Point Travellers’ Centre, a group promoting travellers’ human rights, condemned the race.
Press officer Ben Archibald told RTE News: “What we saw on Saturday, what we saw in that video was just a serious risk to life, and there’s nothing cultural about that, you can’t defend that on cultural grounds, and no traveller is trying to.”
In a statement released later, the centre described the race as illegal and dangerous.
“Pavee Point is concerned that all the participants involved in the event filmed placed themselves, their animals and other road users in danger.
“This was a completely unacceptable misuse of a public road and Pavee Point calls on anybody contemplating similar activities to stop and consider the safety of their animals, themselves and other road users.
“We are concerned that the practice of sulky racing, which is a longstanding tradition within and outside the traveller community, should not be conflated with the actions of the participants in this event — sulky racing can be carried out in a way which is safe and well regulated, where there is space for it to take place.
“Examples of good practice exist around Ireland.”
The centre called on local authorities to engage with traveller organisations, horse-owner projects and the police to investigate how to bring about a resolution which allows this long-standing tradition to continue in a manner which is safe and legal.