Traditional horse races held in Gozo on Thursday incensed karozzini drivers who claimed that double standards are being applied. 

Animal welfare laws were enacted in July to keep karozzini horses out of the searing heat between 1 and 4pm in July and August.

However, the Santa Marija race took place on Thursday in the midst of the summer heat at 3pm, with races going on until just after 6pm. 

Dylan Micallef, a karozzin driver, said the decision to forge ahead with the races was unfair.

“We too have certification claiming that all our horses are fit but we are prevented from earning our daily bread,” he said. 

“I have absolutely nothing against horse races in the street, I’m a horse-racing enthusiast myself, but Clint Camilleri (Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights) is allowing these horses to gallop under the sun on the basis that they are certified to race.”

Michael Caruana, president of the Soċjetà Filarmonika Leone, said the event organisers had consulted the national authorities on how best to conduct the races. 

The races, he said, took just over a minute each, stretching from the school in Republic Street, Victoria, to the upper end of the road. 

A spokesman for Mr Camilleri said each of the competing horses had been certified fit to race. 

We too have certification claiming that all our horses are fit but we are prevented from earning our daily bread

The spokesman said the authorities had insisted that structures providing shade for the horses between races be installed. The secretariat’s spokesman gave assurances that vets were on site and riders will not be permitted to use spurs or crops. Mr Micallef, however, who has participated in such races in the past, claimed the participating horses are subjected to more stress than they are when they are drawing carriages. 

“After a 15-minute ride, our horses are put in the shade where they are given plenty of water. The horses in the race are exposed to a lot of sun before the race begins and the galloping causes them to heat up much more than they do when they are pulling a carriage,” he said

The races were also called into question by a court last year when a rider was accused of causing his horse unnecessary pain. 

A spokesperson for animal welfare group, Time for Change, said it was a step in the right direction that the organisers of the races were actually considering the horses’ welfare. She hoped that any initiative will, however, actually be put into practice.