COMMENT: Masham is not Pamplona and sheep racing is not bull running

Sheep racing at Masham Sheep Fair in 2016. Photo: Guy Carpenter/Gullwing Photography.

58,000 people have signed a petition calling for the sheep racing at Masham Sheep Fair to be banned.

Depending on when you’re reading this it could be, 60,000, 100,000 or a million by now. Of course, it’s unlikely any of these people will have actually been to Masham and seen the sheep racing for themselves. They just don’t like the idea.

“It’s degrading. It’s unnatural. It’s exploitative.” Is it really?

Have a look at this video and judge for yourself:

We would suggest we’re not talking Pamplona here. These sheep aren’t running because they are scared or angry. They’re not going to be stabbed with knives at the end of the race. The sheep are running after a bucket of feed. They run because they want some food and they want to get the food as quickly as possible.

They don’t know they’re racing. They’re not actually racing. They’re just trotting for some food. Yes, people are watching and making a bit of noise but we’d suggest the sheep don’t really care that much. They just want food.

The sheep racing has become a much-loved part of Masham Sheep Fair, which attracts thousands of people over the weekend.

As well as being an important date for local sheep farmers with up to 70,000 sheep sold over the weekend, it is good for the wider local economy.

The sheep racing is just one of things to see at the fair, but it’s a fun attraction that helps to bring in visitors from further afield; visitors who will go home having had a fun day and knowing a little bit more about how rural life works and where the food they eat comes from.

But people on the internet don’t like the idea of sheep racing and so they’ve signed a petition demanding it’s stopped. Elsewhere, racing at three similar events has already been cancelled after petitions were launched. The organisers of Masham Sheep Fair are no-doubt wondering what they should do.

Well if it counts for anything we think they should keep the sheep racing.  In fact we’ve launched a petition ourselves calling for it to be expanded. Click here for more details.

Yes, it’s done with tongue firmly wedged in side of cheek. But there is a serious point here. If people discover they can stop sheep racing because they don’t like the idea just by clicking on a website, how long before they turn their attention to other aspects of rural life they’re not keen on? Auction marts, country shows perhaps.

Surely the best people to judge whether this event is right or wrong is the people who spend their lives looking after sheep and whose livelihood depends on their welfare. If they say it’s okay by them, then it’s okay by us.