The Wonderful and Weird World of Animal Racing

Published: June 05, 2015
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As we find ourselves smack in the middle of prime horse racing time with the last jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont, bearing down upon us, do you find yourself wondering what other types of races are out there? I can’t be the only one who ponders that. Here are some highlights of races with animals other than horses.

Camel Racing

It’s no surprise that camel racing is a sport most popular in countries in the Middle East, but it’s also quite popular in Australia. What might be even more surprising is that racing camels on the other side of the globe are often ridden by small remote controlled robots rather than humans. (Children used to be the desired jockeys for camel racing, but with child welfare and trafficking laws, many countries have banned child jockeys.)

In the UAE, camel racetracks can be over three miles long. After the camels are released down the track, a set of SUVs drives after them. In these vehicles are the owners of the camels, each car following and watching his particular animal.

The United States has a few camel races, mostly for the novelty factor. Virginia City, Nevada, holds a camel and ostrich race every year. In the U.S., adults race the camels — no robots or underage riders here. Camels can reach speeds of up to 40 mph and their running gait is not very easy to sit on, so it takes skill or sometimes just dumb luck to stay on.

Ostrich Racing

Ostriches can be raced either with someone riding on their back or attached to a cart. There are special saddles and even bits and reins for those who choose to mount up, but even trussed up like a horse, an ostrich is notoriously difficult to control. With speeds similar to camels’ and a stride that can cover up to sixteen feet, you better hold on because it’s going to be one wild ride.

Sheep Racing

This one should really be everyone’s favorite. In a few towns in England (of course this would be in England) once a year a group of sheep is raced down a town lane. Closed to traffic, people gather behind barriers to watch as well tended, well groomed, and impressively athletic ovines leap and gallop and, well, basically frolic down the lane to everyone’s enjoyment. As if this couldn’t get any cuter, the sheep are dressed nicely and sometimes have stuffed jockey dolls attached to their backs. Seriously. I’m starting a petition to get this sport on the books in America. Who’s with me?

Hog Racing

Runner up in cuteness factor to the sheep races mentioned above has got to be hog races. Usually a short distance, hog races involve young, boisterous pigs wearing colored tops with a number. They careen along a short track to the finish line with no riders and just the crowd to cheer them on. Occasionally a race will involve obstacles such as a water jump! Hog races are usually held at county fairs and involve 4H hogs. Many are held as fundraising events, much like wiener races, which, although may sound related, are actually Dachshund-specific races of oh, 25 feet in length or so, because, you know, short legs.

Dr. Anna O'Brien

Image: Philip Lange / Shutterstock