Horse death before Palio sparks debate in Italy

A horse smashed into a barrier and died during training Friday

for a famed race around a historic Italian city’s cobblestone

piazza, leading to calls from animal rights groups for a suspension

of the risky bareback contest.

Italian tourism minister Michela Brambilla said the event – held

in Siena, Tuscany – might be reconsidered, according to the ANSA

news agency.

The horse Messi smashed into a barrier on a notoriously

dangerous curve and died soon thereafter, according to the website

of Siena’s city hall. The ANSA news agency said the horse was a

six-year-old bay.

The Palio is held twice every summer, a fierce competition

between the Tuscan city’s neighborhoods that draws tens of

thousands of people. Horses run at breakneck speed around a

dirt-covered oval track converted from the city’s main cobblestone

square, while jockeys in colorful medieval outfits whip them


But critics and animal rights activists say it is cruel and

dangerous to horses, which frequently fall, collide, or are

trampled during the race. Some 50 horses have died since 1970.

Brambilla said ”the moment has come to submit to rigorous study

the Palio and all other competitions where living creatures are

exploited and risk their lives only to entertain people.”

She said the Palio ”cannot be considered untouchable” and is

”anachronistic,” according to the ANSA news agency.

The animal rights association LAV said the race Saturday should

be suspended in a show of grief, ”though we know this won’t happen

as the show must go on – even if stained by the blood of yet

another innocent victim.”

Siena – the capital of the province of Siena – is a UNESCO World

Heritage Site and one of Italy’s most visited tourist


The other Palio race is held in August.

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