The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Santa Marija horse races - Change the time, change the place

Friday, 16 August 2019, 11:31 Last update: about 7 months ago

In the scorching heat of summer, should horses be made to race on roads during the peak hours?

This is a question many people were weighing when the traditional horse races in Victoria, Gozo, were announced. While a tradition, perhaps one must question whether this could indeed be unfair for the animals themselves. The Santa Marija celebrations in Gozo bring along with it the traditional horse races, but many activists argue that this is a barbaric tradition.

Recently, new legislation for Karozzini was brought into effect, which  under the Animal Welfare Act banned the use of horse-drawn carriages between 1.00pm and 4.00pm during July and August. While this law cannot, technically, be transferred onto horse-racing, one must ask whether forcing horses to exert extreme physical activity through racing at such peak hours under the scorching sun is considered an animal friendly measure.

At the very least perhaps organising the races either early in the morning or later in the day would be a better option.

The Commissioner for Animal Welfare Dennis Montebello has once again reiterated his call to end horse racing on the eve of the traditional street horse races in Victoria. Perhaps it is about time for action to be taken on this issue.

It was noted that these races need only be authorized by Transport Malta who also has the power to implement any conditions that may be needed on the day.

It is positive to note however, that at least complaints by animal rights activists over the years did not fall of deaf ears.  Indeed the starting time for races during Mnarja had been changed to a later time when the sun is not at its strongest.

Indeed one must also acknowledge that such horse races do attract large crowds, and are a spectacle that many foreigners and Maltese alike enjoy watching. This, however, is still not a valid reason for the races to take place in the peak of summer at 2.30pm in the afternoon.

In addition, animal rights group have, over the years, highlighted that asphalt, is unsuitable for equines to gallop on, and this was also echoed by Montebello.

Indeed an animal rights group a few years ago had said: "These races could easily be held at the Gozo race track and in the early morning, ensuring as little stress to the animals as possible at a reasonable time where they also can race on a better surface. One has to also remember that many of these equines will be transported to and back from Malta and with our current temperatures soaring even higher than last year the equines stress levels, will be excessively high."

Years ago, the Animal Welfare Directorate had weighed in on the debate, and said that the Santa Marija Horse Race should be held in the early morning or late evenings. If banning the race isn't an option, then at least bare the animal's welfare in mind, and change the hours such races take place, and consider hosting them on appropriate surfaces.

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