Simply put, Irish sports are brutal and dangerous. American football has many parallels to rugby, but at least American football players have protective padding. The most protection that rugby players are afforded seem to be those puffy women’s shoulder pads from the 80’s.
Pat and I recently went to a hurling match, which is a native Gaelic game. We both found ourselves cringing and wincing as we watched the game. Imagine a game where you give every team member a wooden bat and tell them to try and get a ball the size of a golf ball through a goal post by striking the ball, running with it, and occasionally kicking it – that is hurling. One of my colleagues at work made the comment that you can always spot a hurling player because they are usually missing teeth and fingers.
This weekend Pat and I found ourselves at another dangerous sporting event: a point to point horse race. According to the Kinsale Times, point to point racing is an amateur form of steeplechasing that is regulated by the Jockey Club. The competing horses must have been used to hunt at least seven times in order to qualify. As with the Kinsale event, these races usually take place in some farmer’s mowed field out in the countryside.
The Irish Thoroughbred Marketing website shares that the sport of steeplechasing has its origins in County Cork with the first recorded Steeplechase match having taken place here in 1752. “The riders, Cornelius O’Callaghan and Edmund Blake raced from the steeple in one church to the steeple in the second church over a course of natural obstacles and 4 ½ miles.”
This sport is chock full of thrills and spills, and we saw plenty of both at the Kinsale Point to Point. It is sort of like watching a train wreck. It is horrible and frightening, but you can’t take your eyes off of it – especially when the action is happening just 20 feet in front of you. We saw a number of falls at the last jump, and because of the especially hard turf on race day there were far more horse injuries that normal. We didn’t stay for the entire day, but sadly in just five races, two horses had to be put down because of severe injuries. Pat and I both found this very heartbreaking. Being a country girl I know that sometimes animals have to be euthanized, but it felt especially demoralizing and sad at this particular event, because the horses were being ridden in less than ideal conditions. I question the wisdom of putting these animals in a situation where injuries were bound to happen due to the hardness of the ground. Fortunately, no jockeys were killed but several were injured.
The scariest moment came during the third race. There was a group of seven smaller sized horses in this heat, but the jockeys were all very competitive. As the group approached the final jump the horses were positioned quite close together. One of the jockeys foolishly started urging his horse towards a very small gap between two horses just as they reached the jump. This resulted in a huge tangled mess of horses and jockeys. One of the horses actually rolled on top of his rider. The jockey was trapped under the horse for 30 or 40 seconds (it felt more like 10 minutes). Amazingly both horse and rider were back on their feet after several minutes, but the horse was favoring one of his legs and the jockey was taken to hospital.
Here is a video of a spill during a point to point race (not the one we witnessed). The horse and rider both come out unscathed, but if you are a bit squeamish about this sort of thing, consider yourself forewarned.

When the horse and jockey do make it over the jumps it is like poetry in motion. Clearly, these horses have to be in top form to leap over the 4 feet 6 inch high jumps at least twelve times in the span of three miles. If you ever have the opportunity to see a steeplechase or a point to point, I would highly recommend it. It is a heart thumping experience.