Horse races are contested between a number of horses and riders. The horse that crosses the finish line first wins the race and the associated prize money. The horse must complete the race according to the rules of the competition, including jumping any hurdles if present. In addition to rules governing the course of the race and jumping, there are specific rules regulating the riding of the horses and the use of whips and other equipment.
While equestrian sports have traditionally retained many of their rules and traditions, horse racing has been transformed by technological advances. These include thermal imaging cameras to detect overheating in horses post-race, MRI scanners and endoscopes that can identify a number of minor or major health conditions, and 3D printing technology that allows for the production of casts and splints for injured horses.
The influx of new technologies has allowed for the creation of more sophisticated and safer races, but the sport remains vulnerable to a growing backlash against animal cruelty. The emergence of activist groups such as PETA, which campaigns against abuse of Thoroughbred racehorses, has increased awareness about the dark side of the industry. The organization’s investigations have exposed abusive training practices for young horses, the use of dangerous drugs, and the fate of thousands of American racehorses who are slaughtered each year in foreign slaughterhouses.
As the world’s oldest and most famous horse race, the Palio di Siena is held twice a year in the historic Italian city of Siena. Each time, the winner is a horse representing one of the seventeen Contrade that make up the city. The magnificent pageant that precedes each event attracts spectators from around the world.
A horse race may be run under a variety of different conditions, including with a flag, provided the starter or the stewards have given permission. Generally, though, horse races must be started from starting stalls or starting gates. However, in extraordinary or emergency circumstances, flat races may be started with a flag as long as the starter or a steward has decided to do so.
The final straightaway of a horse race is called the stretch, which begins just past the eight pole and extends to the finish line. Horses run their fastest during this phase of the race.
As the horse approaches the finish line, its rider will apply pressure on the reins in order to speed up the horse and encourage it to run faster. The horse will then begin to speed up and may buck or kick its hind legs. If the horse begins to fall or become unbalanced, its rider will lose control of the horse and it may be disqualified.