Government to adopt ‘carrot and stick’ approach to sulky racing

Initiative follows rise in number of collisions and death of boy (12) in Dublin incident

A file image of a sulky rider with a pony at the Ballinasloe Horse Fair. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh.

A file image of a sulky rider with a pony at the Ballinasloe Horse Fair. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh.


A training course for ‘sulky’ drivers and trotter horse owners will begin next month in the Dublin area as part of a “carrot and stick” approach by the Government to curb illegal road racing.

The Department of Agriculture has commissioned the training programme, which will also be rolled out in other areas of the State, and is currently examining the issue of regulating sulky racing.

This follows an increase in the number of collisions on public roads involving such vehicles and the death of a 12-year-old boy in a sulky incident in Dublin.

A sulky is an unprotected lightweight, two-wheeled cart usually drawn by a horse or pony.

The department said the course would be run by a team of veterinary surgeons and nurses with a “clear understanding of the cultural sensitivities surrounding participation in road racing”.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said the issues around sulky racing were complex and not always clear cut “particularly as a variety of horse-drawn vehicles are legitimately and safely used on Irish roads”.

“The course will encourage participants to move away from road racing practices and move to racing on tracks and to engage with the regulated sport of harness racing on tracks, as operated by the Irish Harness Racing Association,” he said.

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny has expressed concern that sulky racing would be banned, something which he said would not work. Independent TD Mattie McGrath has stated an intention to introduce legislation to ban the practice.

Complex issue

Describing the sport as popular among the Traveller and working-class communities, Mr Kenny said banning it “will simply drive the practice underground”.

Raising the issue in the Dáil this week, the Dublin South-West TD referred to a sulky event in Portmarnock, Co Dublin and said that while the track was not widely known about it was “very good and very positive for those who use it”.

Mr Creed said the unregulated nature of sulky racing on public roads was dangerous for horses, their owners and the public at large.

Describing it as a complex issue, he said: “We need both the carrot and the stick in this area. We have the legislative toolbox necessary but we need to ensure all actors involved in the implementation of that legislation live up to their respective responsibilities”.

The Minister said the department was keen to raise awareness of the importance of good horse welfare among sulky participants and the owners and keepers of trotting horses.

Mr Creed last year formally opened the Clondalkin Equine Club in Dublin, a facility for urban-owned horses where local youths are taught about equine care and welfare.

He said “the urban horse is as much a part of the story of the Irish horse and cannot be forgotten or written out” but “there is an issue around welfare that is disproportionately evident” in urban areas.

Mr Kenny said urban horse ownership sometimes had very negative connotations, “but it is actually a very positive thing, particularly for young people in working-class communities. Travellers have also been unfairly criticised in relation to horse ownership.”