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Riding Through the Fire

By Leslie Potter

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

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Have you ever heard of the festival of San Bartolome de Pinares? This annual celebration includes one of the most bizarre equestrian traditions still in existence. Residents of this village in Spain create a sort of steeplechase track where the jumps are flaming piles of brush.

The festival occurs every January 16 on the eve of Saint Anthony's day. Saint Anthony is known as the patron saint of animals. Proponents of the tradition say the horses are sanctified by the flames and the smoke is purifying. Needless to say, animal welfare advocates disagree and have called for the festival to be banned. According to reports, there is an unwritten rule that riders are to take their horses around the flames rather than jumping through them, but not all riders adhere to that.

The spectacle makes for some really interesting photos (click here to see some) but I'm left with a lot of questions. I can believe that if your horse jumps through reasonably swiftly, there wouldn't be much risk of burns, but what if he hesitates? Some of the riders appear to braid the manes and put the tails in something like a mud knot, but others are loose and free and flammable, I suspect. And what happens if a horse is going full speed, then refuses at the last second? You'd better be sitting deep, or you'd find yourself in the middle of the bonfire.

I haven't been able to find any statistics on horse or rider injuries or fatalities, so maybe this thing really does continue year after year without tragedy.

This tradition reminds me a bit of the suicide race at the Omak Stampede here in the U.S. There may be some historical or spiritual roots to the practice, but in the 21st century the primary motivation to participate is to show that you're macho enough to do it, while spectators cheer you on.

What do you think? Is this just another equestrian activity with its own set of risks, or is it a cruel, outdated tradition?

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Reader Comments

chessa    here, DC

1/26/2011 3:34:20 PM

are these people crazy??? that's not 'brave' that's what i call 'dumb' they must not be right in the head if they do this for fun

me    somewhere, IN

1/24/2011 5:58:05 PM

It actually seems fun. Obviously the horses aren't traumatized by it since they are willingly doing it.

Susan    Memphis, TN

1/24/2011 6:40:50 AM

My horses have been traumatized by fire already. 5 years ago we had a barn fire and lost 27 horses, 1 dog, & 1 cat. I would never subject them to fire again.

Horselover    Somewhere, ID

1/22/2011 5:06:21 AM

Wow this is happening in AMERICA !! ??

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