A man rides a horse through a bonfire as part of a ritual

Credit: metro news

The smoke from the 500-year-old Spanish tradition is meant to purify the animals and protect them for the year to come.

Those taking part in the village of San Bartolome de Pinares, Spain, ride down the narrow cobbled streets and jump through raging fires laid out before them.

The smoke is meant to purify the animals and protect them for the year to come.

The tradition has been running for 500 years

The ritual takes place every year on the eve of St Anthony’s feast day, January 17.

It is believed the festival used to be much smaller, with a limited amount of kindling for the fires arriving on the backs of donkeys.

Now, a large amount of fuel is driven to the area in trucks, making the resulting smoke much thicker.

But despite a backlash from animal rights activists, organisers of the annual Las Luminarias festival continue to argue that the horses go completely unharmed.

The government of Castille and Leon, San Bortolome’s region, previously sent veterinarians to the ritual to check on every horse that entered the flames.

Organisers insist the horses are not injured

Vets are sent to check the horses and make sure they are unharmed

Mayor Maria Jesus Martin, said the experts reported back ‘not one burn, not even one harmed horse.’

It makes me angry to hear the insults without those speaking knowing anything at all about the tradition,’ she wrote on social media.

‘They call us stubborn, hicks. They have even openly called on social media to throw me, the mayor, into the bonfire.’

Yet Spanish political party the Animalist Party Against the Mistreatment of Animals described the festival as an example of ‘clear animal abuse’.

PETA said the horses pictured must be ‘terrified’

PETA Director Elisa Allen told Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s beyond comprehension that in the 21st century, parts of Spain still allow and even celebrate the sadistic torture of animals for human amusement.

‘The terrified horses used in Las Luminarias are made to run and jump through flaming bonfires, putting them at risk of serious burns and other injuries, not to mention the stress caused just by being in a crowded festival environment.

Spanish tradition is rich and vibrant – there are countless cultural activities to engage in that don’t involve putting animals’ lives at risk for the sake of entertainment.

We urge authorities to put a stop to this ritualised torture, which is a stain on the country’s reputation.’

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