Horse death before Palio sparks debate in Italy

AP News
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Posted: Jul 01, 2011 2:55 PM
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 ferociously.

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 attractions.

The other Palio race is held in August.