A 500-year-old Spanish tradition that “purifies” horses by forcing them to leap into several raging bonfires, needs to be scrapped. Year after year, terrified horses are burnt and suffer smoke inhalation, as well as trauma associated with the Las Luminarias annual festival in San Bartolome de Pinares in Spain.

Spain BonfireDuring the evening event, riders douse their horses with water and ride them through fires, which are set up throughout the town. The jumps – which involve being completely engulfed in flames – continues until midnight. According to the culture, it is meant to purify horses for the coming year and prevent them from getting illness and injury. The festival happens on the eve of Saint Anthony’s Day, the patron saint of animals.

Before the event, children use tree branches to build the bonfires while the horses’ names are braided on their foreheads, and their tails are taped with the colors of the Spanish flag.

Crowds at the event wear face masks to protect themselves from the smoke.

There has been mounting criticism about the tradition and the obvious animal cruelty, but the town’s mayor, Maria Jesus Martin Gomez, completely disagrees.

Last year, she was quoted by media as saying: “The only thing I have to say is that the animals don’t suffer anything at all.”

Spain Bonfire

Some individuals have called the tradition “cruel and ridiculous” because forcing horses to go through flames to “protect” them did not make sense. It is unclear if any horses have died or been seriously injured in the event, since its inception. However, there have been reported incidents where horses have fallen down – into the flames.

David Barritt, chief campaigner of Network for Animals (NFA), says the act is cruel and needs to be stopped. “Horses are gentle creatures that are terrified of fire. This event might just be their worst nightmare, and it definitely amounts to animal cruelty. NFA urges the mayor to find an alternative way to celebrate this tradition without torturing horses,” he said.