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.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week