Pete the Vet discusses sulky racing on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show, then responds to listeners’ pet queries

What is sulky racing?

A sulky is a lightweight, single-seater, two-wheeled cart used in harness racing. On a road or a track, horses compete as trotters or pacers, depending on the animal’s type of gait. Races are conducted with hobbles (leg movement restricted by being tied with ropes), or ‘free-legged’. As in the photo above, this type of harness racing is seen as a respectable sport.
Sulky road racing on Irish roads is a different thing altogether, and it’s illegal in Ireland in the sense that it contravenes the normal rules of the road. Despite this, it has grown in popularity over the past 10 years, with stallions being imported for breeding from the USA, UK, and Australia. Although there may be an association with the Traveller community, many of those involved in sulky road racing are from a settled background.

  • The fact that races often take place on public roads – whether back roads or dual carriageways – means that the law is often broken, and other road users get understandably annoyed.
  • There are also many accusations of animal mistreatment and cruelty.
  • Serious proponents of sulky racing acknowledge that while there are reckless, lawless individuals carrying out the sport, the same applies to many other activities, and the sport overall should not be condemned by the wrongful actions of a few.
  • A legal day of racing takes place in Crossmaglen, Co Armagh​ and those who enjoy this sport would like the same type of answer in the Republic of Ireland

What does the ispca say about sulky racing

The ISPCA has found a number of ponies which have been abandoned after sustaining substantial serious injuries while taking part in sulky racing. While some road races are obviously dangerous, the risks to the animals involved are more widespread than this. Accidents can easily happen during training. In addition the animals’ joints are traumatised by repeated, stressful trotting on hard surfaces, and this can cause permanent damage, particularly in young ponies and horses.

The Irish law on sulky racing

While many people call for a specific ban on sulky racing, the horrific events that regularly make news headlines following accidents involving sulkies are already illegal

  • The Roads Act of 1993 details rules surrounding the holding and organisation of road races.
    “A person who intends to hold, organise or promote a road race shall give at least one month’s notice (or such other period of notice as may be prescribed by the Minister) in writing to the road authority and to the Superintendent of the Garda Síochána within whose district the road race is to be held,”
  • Additionally, the Department of Agriculture has made it clear that the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 makes it illegal to do anything causing unnecessary suffering or endangerment to the health or welfare of an animal, and that An Garda Síochána are authorised officers under the Animal Health and Welfare Act.

So as far as the mad sulky races that make news headlines are concerned, they are already illegal.

Is the law against illegal sulky racing enforced?

Illegal racing is often stopped by the gardai, but when this happens, it doesn’t make news headlines. As an example, a race was intercepted in Cashel in recent weeks and prosecutions will follow. Having said this, it would be better if there were additional ways of stopping these types of happenings before they take place.

What should happen next?

These young men are effectively joy riding with horses, going too fast on public roads in the dark. The animals are too young, the drivers are too young, and the races happen in inappropriate places. They are dangerous to humans, and cruel and dangerous to horses.

Sulky racing is specifically banned in some areas by local by-laws (e.g. in Kilkenny) but this is not the full answer. It’s fair to compare the situation with how the law deals with a young lad driving crazily in a hot hatch car or a motorbike: banning hot hatches and motorbikes is not the answer. Rather than trying to “ban them” we need to look for regulation to put some control on what’s happening.

Horse drawn vehicles should be governed by regulations in the same way as cars.  At the moment, they don’t need licence plates, lights, etc, and as long they obey the rules of the road, they can get away with a lot

There should be:

  • minimum age of horse
  • minimum age of driver
  • speed limits for horse drawn vehicles
  • identification of horse drawn vehicles, so that if there ever is an incident, there is accountability

If you want the Irish government to take more action on illegal sulky racing, sign this petition.

Questions from listeners about pets

  • My dog is 1 year old and has started dribbling wee around the house. She has been neutered in February. She has also start weeing on my bed too what can I do?
  • My back garden is visited by foxes every night. I have a lurcher dog and wonder who would come out the worst if I let her out in the garden. These foxes are driving her mad and myself also.
  • I have a 7 month Border Collie who is scared of everything. We’ve had her since she was about 6 weeks and she has never had any accident or been abused in any way. She was grand up to about 3 months, but chicken since then! She has zero fear of people, but she’s petrified of anything that makes noise like the blender or hoover, she’s afraid of other animals. She has an interest in other dogs, but immediately lies on her back when they approach. Out walking anything bigger than a car causes her to try and bolt, even though she is on the lead and cant. Even a bike is terrifying. We always reassure her in a happy voice if anything ‘scary’ shows up, which can calm her a tiny bit, but not much. Any suggestions to braven her up??
  • My 9 month old cat has developed eczema around his head and neck. Anything I can do before I bring him to the vet? Thanks Stephen
  • We have a stray male cat who has taken up residence. He’s been with us several months and while he looks better now he remains very thin with balding patches. We have treated him for fleas/ticks. He eats very well despite having an overbite on top. Any advice to try and get rid of his pathetic alley cat looks?
  • Last 2 nights diarrhoea in one dog, now 2nd dog has it. Terriers. Feeding them rice and chicken. Should I stop feeding for a day or bring to vet? Adults in the house have diarrhoea too! Thanks Anita
  • What can you do about separation anxiety in puppies ? My daughter’s dog has separation anxiety and I have a new puppy and want to ensure that he doesn’t develop it?

To listen to the discussion on sulky racing and to hear Pete’s answers to the questions above, follow the link below.


Listen to the podcast:

Start Podcast

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

Privacy | Terms and Conditions