Ban’ei is a horse race found only in Japan. It requires a draft horse to pull a weighted sled up sand ramps with a jockey on the back to encourage the horse onward.
The track is covered in dirt with ropes that separate the course into lanes. The horses are expected to carry anywhere between 450 kg to 1 ton on their carts, depending on their class. There are two obstacles, or hills, that the horses must climb throughout the track. After the first climb, the horse is often given a short break before tackling the next.
This sport was likely to have begun sometime in the pre-Meiji Era and was inspired by agricultural work. Eventually, festivals became a place for locals to bring their horses to test their speed and strength.
In 1953, Ban’ei grew in popularity and races could be seen in Kitami, Asahikawa, Iwamizawa, and Obihiro. However, the sport lost significant revenue and by 2007 many of the tracks shut down.
Currently, the only place to see Ban’ei is at the Obihiro Racecourse in Hokkaido, Japan. The sport is losing its popularity and already almost disappeared completely in 2006.
Interesting Fact: The horses used in Ban’ei are often purebred or crosses of Breton, Belgian, or Percheron breeds. These horses are used either for racing or for meat.
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