Many animals, at least in more commercial sports, are highly trained. Two of the most common animals in sport are horses and dogs. There are many types of animal sporting events, with varying levels of participation from humans. Some are solely between the animals while others use the animals in a lesser role. Most sports involve training, while some can also involve selective breeding.
There are some large-scale events that include animals in a variety of sports. A rodeo can comprise many different sports, ranging from bull riding to pole bending. Racing is the most popular form of animal-related sport, particularly horse racing. Some racing events directly involve humans as riders while others see the animals race alone. In some sports the rider is not directly riding the animal, instead being pulled along. Examples of this include harness racing, dogsled racing and popular ancient Greek and Roman sport of chariot racing.
Greyhound racing, a popular form of animal racing, dates back to the 1800s in the United States, after the dogs were brought over from Europe to help control the hare population. While track racing is the most common, there are other forms of racing. Pigeon racing, for example, sees homing pigeons finding their way home from a set distance away.
Racing events are a common way to gamble, with billions spent worldwide every year. There are some non-racing competitive events involving animals. Polo is an example, with competitors hitting a ball with mallets while on horseback. Elephant polo dates back to the early 20th century when members of the British aristocracy in Nepal began playing the sport. In the 14th to 16th centuries jousting was a popular one-on-one tournament event involving knights on horseback.
Dog racing originated as a sport about 2500 bc in Egypt, where the pastime took the form of coursing. Coursing (the pursuit of game or other animals by dogs) remained popular throughout ancient times and during the Middle Ages, and it was a favorite sport of royalty in 16th-century England. Coursing competition was organized on a formal basis in Great Britain in the 18th century and in the U.S. in the 19th century.
The oldest and most famous of the British stakes is the Waterloo Cup, held since 1776 in Liverpool. In the early 20th century, opposition to the use of live rabbits as lures in coursing led to the development in the U.S. of the mechanical lure, which was first demonstrated successfully in Emeryville, Calif., in 1919. Greyhound racing subsequently replaced coursing in popularity in the U.S. and in Great Britain, where the sport was introduced in 1925.
An Alaskan sled-dog race, named for the now-deserted gold-rush town of Iditarod, was begun in 1973 by Joseph Redington (1917-.99) as a reenactment of the 1925 emergency deliveries of serum to fight diphtheria, the race runs for more than 1100 mi from Anchorage to Nome. The race is held annually in March and follows a trail of old winter paths between the two cities that is part of the Iditarod National Historic Trail.
Pigeon racing is the sport with a single starting gate and a thousand finish lines. In short, competing birds are taken from their lofts and must race home. The time taken and distance are recorded and the fastest bird is declared the winner.
In the early days of racing, paint was used to identify birds for owners. Belgium then developed a 1/8 inch brass leg band, that was sent to racers in America to use. Pigeons are the oldest domesticated bird. The predecessors of modern day racing pigeons were pigeons bred for their homing ability, primarily to carry messages. "Pigeon Posts" have been established all over the world and while mainly used in the military, some are still in service today. Modern pigeon racing originated in Belgium in the mid 19th century.
The importance of homing pigeons in the centuries before electronic communications, such as the telegraph and telephone, is seldom recognized. However the Reuters News Agency, the world's largest information provider, began as a pigeon service carrying closing stock prices between Belgium and Germany, basically between the Western and Eastern terminus of the telegraph in Europe.
The earliest chariots, reportedly from the Middle East, date from about 2000 bc; the chariots discovered in 1990 in graves in the steppes of Russia (east of the Ural Mts.) may be of an earlier date. Evidence of their use in Asia Minor dates from 1850 bc. Egyptians and Hittites fought on chariots in a battle in 1275 bc. Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and most other ancient peoples used chariots in racing as well. In Rome, chariot racing was one of the most popular sports in circus games.
Steeplechase horse racing is over a prescribed course that involves jumping over obstacles such as hedges, ditches, and walls. The sport derives its name from early races in which riders frequently set as a goal a church whose steeple was visible throughout the course of the race. The time and place of the beginning of steeplechase racing are not known. As a professional sport, it flourished widely in Ireland and England from the beginning of the 19th century. The outstanding steeplechase race in England today is the Grand National Steeplechase, held annually at Aintree, near Liverpool; the event was established in 1839. Other important steeplechase races in England are held annually at Birmingham, Manchester, and Windsor.
In the U.S., steeplechase races became popular toward the end of the 19th century as part of regular professional race meetings. The sport later dwindled in popularity, but at the present time approximately 16 annual steeplechasing events of importance take place at the larger tracks, including Belmont Park, Saratoga, and Aqueduct in New York State and Laurel and Havre de Grace in Maryland. The term steeplechase is also applied to an athletic event in which runners race over an obstacle course in track and field.
Harness racing as an organized activity is an American innovation dating from the early 19th century. In the early races, the horses usually carried riders and did not draw vehicles. Sulkies came into use in the 1830s and '40s. The first known speed record was an unofficial mark set in 1806 by the American trotter Yankee, 2 min 59 sec for one mile under saddle. Later better breeding and training methods led to much faster performances, notably the performance of the trotter Lady Suffolk in 1845, 2 min 29.5 sec for the mile.
Barrel racing originally developed as an event for women. While the men roped or rode bulls and broncs, the women barrel raced. In early barrel racing, the pattern alternated between a figure-eight and a cloverleaf pattern. The figure-eight pattern, though, was eventually dropped in favor of the more-difficult cloverleaf. It is believed that Barrel Racing first saw competitive light in the state of Texas.
The WPRA was developed in 1948 by a group of women from Texas who were looking to make a home for themselves and women in general in the sport of rodeo. When it initially began, the WPRA was called the Girls Rodeo Association, with the acronym GRA. It consisted of only 74 members with as little as 60 approved tour events. The Girls Rodeo Association was the first body of rodeo developed specifically for women. Women were allowed to compete in several events of rodeo. The GRA eventually changed its name and officially became the WPRA in 1981, and the WPRA still allows women to compete in the various rodeo events as they like, but barrel racing remains the most popular event competition.
In Barrel Racing the purpose is to make a run as fast as possible. The times are measured either by an Electric eye, a device using a laser system to record times, or by a judge who drops a flag to let the timer know when to hit the timer stop. Judges and timers are more commonly seen in local and non-professional events. The timer begins when horse and rider cross the start line, and ends when the barrel pattern has been successfully executed and horse and rider cross the finish line. The rider's time depends on several factors, most commonly the horse's physical and mental condition, the rider's horsemanship abilities, and the type of ground or footing (the quality, depth, content, etc. of the sand or dirt in the arena).
In Barrel Racing, the fastest time will win. It is not judged under any subjective points of view, only the clock. Barrel Racers in competition at the professional level must pay attention to detail while maneuvering at high speeds. Precise control is required to win. Running past a barrel and off the pattern will result in a "no time" score and disqualification. If a barrel racer or her horse hits a barrel and knocks it over there is a time penalty of five seconds, which usually will result in a time too slow to win. There is a sixty second time limit to complete the course after time begins. Contestants cannot be required to start a run from an off-center alleyway, but contestants are not allowed to enter the arena and "set" the horse. It is required that the arena is "worked" after twelve contestants have run and before slack. Barrels are required to be fifty-five gallons, metal, enclosed at both ends, and be at least two colors. Since its beginnings, the sport has developed over the years into a highly organized, exciting, but well-governed sport.
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