Safety rules aim to tame the perils of the Palio

Whips banned in attempt to reduce injury toll for riders and horses

The medieval Palio horse races, probably Italy's most celebrated summer spectacles, will soon be governed by strict new rules – including breath-tests – in an attempt to stem the tide of injuries to horses and riders.

The sight of 10 horsemen tearing bare-back around Siena's medieval Piazza del Campo, dressed in the historic colours of the city's different wards, attracts thousands of visitors from around Italy and beyond every year. Some 50,000 people crowd into the middle of the square, while the fortunate few take their reserved seats in front of the 15th-century palazzi that circle it, all to be transported back to the Middle Ages.

But with just two weeks to go this year's Palio, organisers have been told of major changes. Whips will no longer be permitted. Traditionally, these instruments, known as nerbi, have been let loose on horses and even riders, in the no-holds-barred competition.

In addition, horses under four years old will not be allowed to compete, and strict new anti-doping checks will be applied. Riders may also be tested to make sure they have adhered to the alcohol ban. The new rules will pertain to the dozens of other historic horse races across Italy.

The Welfare Minister Francesca Martini said the new regulations had been designed to strike a balance between respect for local cultural traditions and protecting the animals and riders. "The traditions are not going to be done away with," she said. "But the horrifying images of a horseman killed on 6 July on the course at Sedilo must not be repeated." She was referring to the death of 44-year-old Roberto Pisanu in the Sardinian town's annual race.

Mr Pisanu suffered a fractured skull when he fell from his horse shortly after the start, and died in hospital the same night. Three other riders fell, one of whom was treated for a spinal injury, the AGI news agency reported.

Nevertheless, Francesco Putzolu, the Mayor of Sedilo, gave the news of government intervention a cool reception. "Ours is a special competition", he said, that "expressed the true Sardinian identity".

But Siena's Mayor, Maurizio Cenni, welcomed the new regulations. "Siena boosted its safety and animal protection measures some time ago, and we believe this ordinance can only improve the situation further,'' he said.

Animal rights activists, however, are still seeking to get the races banned. They have focused their efforts on the Siena Palio, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. They say the Palio is cruel, has little to do with sporting skill and is dangerous for the horses, jockeys and spectators. According to Italy's largest animal rights group, LAV, 48 animals have died since 1970 as a result of the race.

Mrs Martini told Corriere della Sera that her ministry had made a video of the worst incidents in Palio-type races, which showed "poor creatures with their hooves broken, slipping around on the tortuous track and then having to be killed with a pistol".

Two horses have died since 2001, the last time new safety measures were introduced. These included laying special absorbent sand over the cobblestones, padding dangerous corners of the courses and testing horses to ensure they have not been drugged to improve their performance and mask their pain.

Tradition or cruelty? Siena's Palio

*Believed to date to the 13th century, the Palio is held twice a year, once in July and once in August. The race itself lasts only a few minutes, consisting as it does of just three laps around the Piazza del Campo, but is preceded by hours of processions and rituals. Ten horses take part, each representing one of Siena's 17 districts – those that can race are the seven who did not take part in the previous Palio plus three chosen by a draw. The victor walks off with the Palio itself, a silk banner, resulting in much pride and boasting for the victorious district.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Data Analyst / Marketing Database Analyst

£24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Science Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Science Supply Teacher position...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style