Organized horse racing has been a pastime since ancient Rome. Over the millennia, the sport has drawn crowds excited to watch horses and their riders duke it out to claim a glorious first-place finish. But the world is a much different place today, and in some cases, equines have been traded out in favor of motorcycles (don’t worry, the chariots stayed) and other more agile machines whose output gets measured in horsepower.
For some, the sport never died off and simply adapted to the times, especially on the eastern coast of Florida where horse racing is a popular sport at casinos. For locals, it’s not unusual to see owners training, testing, or even drag racing their horses on public roads—an event that can still pull in a crowd without a stadium.
The official name for the sport seen in these now-viral TikTok videos is harness racing. The drivers of the horses sit in two-wheeled open-floor carts, called sulkies, with their feet propped up on either side of the contraption to avoid the horse’s hooves. The sulky itself is affixed to the horse’s saddle via two long metal shafts on either side of the animal, and the horses are commanded using reins that run back to the driver.
Normally, this type of racing is done on a track at casinos or training stables, neither of which are in short supply in Florida. This mostly has to do with the state’s gambling regulations which say casinos can only offer tabletop card games if it also offers either horse racing or jai alai. This has led to a huge industry of horse racing flocking to Florida in order to ensure that the 82 casinos within the Sunshine State remain compliant—though this may soon change as legislation begins to modernize.
That being said, the state’s only track that still hosts harness racing is located about 12 miles outside of Fort Lauderdale, called Pompano Park. Many of the videos found online take place between Miami and Fort Pierce, placing the facility smack-dab in the center.
As part of the horses’ training, owners and riders often take them on public roads in order to stretch their legs. Think of it almost as intense jogging, or trying out a new Couch-to-5K app. Occasionally, the riders will pit the horses against one another in a contest of speed, allowing them to drag race along sections of highway.
Road trotting isn’t necessarily something reserved for Florida, however. Owners all over the world frequently take their horses on pavement for sport and exercise, though the stress to the animals’ joints on the hard asphalt is often something other owners frown upon.
The next time you’re in Florida and happen to see a pair of horses sprinting down the road in tandem, know that your eyes didn’t deceive you—road training for horses is pretty typical in the state, and it’s tied closely to casinos.
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