Another day, another form of horse racing. This is Hokkaido, Japan, where the descendants of heavy European draught horses imported for agricultural work in the nineteenth century now fight it out in Ban-ei races. They drag an iron sled over a course of deep sand a couple of hundred yards long, and climb over ramps and bumps on their way. They are flogged by their jockeys in a fashion that would definitely see them hauled up before the stewards in the UK. Every now and then, one driver stands up and hauls back with all his weight on the horse’s head – perhaps to make it plunge forward when released and throw its weight into the collar.
They start competing as two-year-olds. More from this 2006 New York Times feature:
Draft-horse racing was officially established in 1946, and racetracks became self-contained worlds where stablemen and jockeys spent most of their lives.
Mr. Sakamoto, the 53-year-old jockey, came here when he was 18 and lived for 15 years in an apartment attached to the stables. When the horses kicked the stable walls, he felt the reverberations. “Horses and human beings become one — well, maybe it’s not that simple,” he said. “But that was the goal.”
“I’ve been here all these years,” he added. “I can’t make it out there. Horses are the only thing I know.”