With ears back, eyes rolling and nostrils flared in fury, the enraged horses pummel each other with their hooves and bite and head-butt each other in a horrifying fight, sometimes to the death.
Men, women and children watch, and a roar of approval goes up as one horse delivers the equivalent of a double-uppercut to its opponent with its hind legs.
The cruel “sport” of horse fighting has been outlawed almost worldwide, but it still thrives in countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea and here in China, as these disturbing images of a “tournament” prove.
Chinese spectators watch as two beautiful horses savagely attack one another
They were taken in Guizhou province in south-west China, where local people claim such events are a part of a 500-year-old tradition. The horses have been goaded to fury by their owners who urge them on as they hang on to halter ropes to prevent the horses running off.
All around wildly cheering crowds lay bets on which one will be standing when the fighting ends.
It goes on for half an hour or more, until one or the other collapses or is simply too exhausted to continue.
The Chinese government would prefer you not to see these pictures as it tries to clean up its image for the Beijing Olympics which are only eight months away.
Local people claim such events are a part of a 500-year-old tradition
But critics say horse fighting is as widespread as ever in the huge country’s far-flung provinces, especially among the Miao ethnic group.
Like bear-baiting and cruelty to circus animals, authorities say it is difficult to stop an event that is embedded in local culture, and frequently celebrated at festivals along with fireworks and fancy-dress dragon parades.
In outlying towns horse fights often take place in the main football stadium.
The stallions are driven into a frenzy by the simple ploy of leading them to a mare in heat, then taking her away when they are roused. Mares are often injected with hormones to keep them in heat longer. If they are still reluctant when the mare is removed, they are whipped, and gunshots are fired to stir them up.
A losing horse is often pitted against a much stronger opponent in its next fight to ensure it dies and the spectators get the bloody finale they enjoy. Then, according to reports from some of the remote regions, the dead horse is barbecued as part of the festival.
The cruel ’sport’ of horse fighting has been outlawed almost worldwide, but it still thrives in countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea and here in China
Vivian Farrell, who has waged a long campaign against the fighting as founder and president of the International Fund for Horses, said: “It is very hard to tackle. They say it’s a tradition. Well, it used to be a tradition to sacrifice children, but we’ve moved on from that.
“Sadly it is mostly driven by the Chinese love of gambling, although people get fired up over the blood, gore and intensity of the fighting.”
She sees some hope for progress as China emerges more into the international community. “I get emails now from younger Chinese people saying they don’t like this image and asking what they can do.
“With the Olympics coming, young Chinese people want to be seen to be more humane. But it’s going to take a lot of education and a long time.”
A spokeswoman for PETA ? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals ? who are campaigning for a worldwide ban on the fights, said: “Torturing these magnificent animals in the name of entertainment is deplorable. Tradition never justifies cruelty and has no place in a civilised society.”
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