Although it may not compare to thoroughbred horse racing in terms of popularity, prestige or prize money, the sport of ostrich racing easily offers as much excitement. In fact, if anything ostrich racing is even more exciting. While horses tend to run gracefully with their jockeys delicately perched on top of their backs, ostriches are anything but graceful when they run and tend to look incredibly awkward when they take their long strides.
Ostrich racing and horse racing do share some similarities, as both involve a jockey sitting on a saddle on the back of animal racing around a track to see who can be first across the finish line. Yes, ostrich jockeys do use a modified version of a saddle, but the similarities basically end there.
Whereas horses are domesticated animals bred and trained specifically to race, ostriches are wild animals with their own ideas. This means that there is no guarantee that they will run straight, in the right direction or at all. Their lack of grace also means that it’s common to see ostriches and jockeys go tumbling to the track in the middle of the race or for an ostrich to start running the wrong way. All of this helps add to the excitement and sometimes hilarity of ostrich racing, which helps to explain why it’s growing in popularity.
With a top speed of 43 miles an hour and strides of over 15 feet, ostriches make for quite the spectacle when they begin to run. As far as unusual sports go, ostrich racing might just take the cake.
The African Roots of Ostrich Racing
Although the Arabian ostrich used to roam the Middle East, ostriches are now only found on the African continent. So it’s not that surprising that ostrich racing has its roots in Africa. There are some that speculate that the sport could date back centuries due to depictions that apparently show ancient Egyptian rulers riding the flightless bird.
In more modern times, the sport was primarily associated with South Africa where ostrich races continue to occasionally be held in spite of a sharp decline in popularity. Elsewhere, ostrich racing is suddenly on the rise in countries like Kenya, where enterprising individuals are attempting to draw in tourists with the lure of ostrich rides and races. Coincidentally, this is based on the model that was previously used by many in South Africa.
Ostrich Racing Around the Globe
Although the roots of the sport may lie in Africa, it is the United States where the sport seems to be most popular these days. In addition to races held at tracks such as Ellis Park in Kentucky and Canterbury Park in Minnesota, the country is also home to the annual Great American Ostrich Races. Held each year during the Chandler Ostrich Festival in Chandler, Arizona, the Great American Ostrich Races attract thousands of visitors to the desert town each year in order to see the excitement and adventure of ostrich racing first hand.
As of now, ostrich racing is still somewhat of a niche sport. However, the growing popularity in Africa and America means that it may only be time before we start seeing professional ostrich races on TV.