Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Take on the Palio of Siena

The Palio of Siena on July 2 was run after a long day of heavy downpour that almost flooded the city and turned the Piazza del Campo into an enormous sludge field. So much water threatened to make it impossible for the Palio be run on that day. It would have been quite tragic for many tourists that usually book until the very day of the Palio and leave the day after. This did not happen and everyone could enjoy the Palio. In this edition, however, there was an event that cast a shadow over the event. It was something quite different from last year's accident that saw a French tourist killed by a piece of stone that detached from a terrace during a dinner. However, it was quite just as dramatic. During one of the test runs a horse hit a stone post at one corner of Piazza del Campo injuring itself to death and overthrowing the jokey that reported minor consequences.
This of course brought up strong protests by animal rights organizations.

While I think what happened is a tragic accident that should be avoided at all costs, I also do not feel that the Palio of Siena should stop as a consequence of similar accidents. However, some things should be changed. For example these marble posts should be equipped with some serious shock absorption system, not visually offensive or cumbersome for horses. Moreover, it is a tradition for jockeys to be held free of any responsibility on their doings, especially in case of accidents such as the one in question. I think that since they are paid dearly by the "contrade" that engage them, they should be held responsible for such errors, especially during such an unimportant event as a test run, which has none of the tremendous tension and heat of the Palio race. If a driver has to pay for its misbehavior, why should a jockey be any different? This would make them more cautious for sure. Remember that these guys are the equivalent of extreme sports champions, since they run with silk trousers over an unsaddled sweaty horse zipping at full speed through a narrow cornered path flanked by little or no protection whatsoever. If you expect them to be cautious for their own sake, forget about it!

I do agree that the Palio should do anything to avoid animals any suffering, but at the same time much was done, especially thanks to protesters in favor of animal rights, such as the institution of a residence for injured horses that can continue to graze although not able to run anymore. Moreover, these occurrences are quite rare, fortunately. Much more effort should be put into completely obliterating commercial animal races (horses, dogs, etc.) that are tied to pure economic return and massacre thousands of young animals at the first sign of weakness or minor injury. The Palio is bound to a long history and tradition, and a horse is given maximum respect, and hailed as a hero when victorious.

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