Horses Ridden Through Fire in Spanish Festival

People in a small Spanish village ride horses through bonfires every January to celebrate the patron saint of animals, Saint Anthony.

Residents celebrate the festival of San Bartolome de Pinares each January 16th on the eve of Saint Anthony’s day by building bonfires of burning logs and sticks in the streets, creating a race track not unlike the ones used in traditional horse-jumping events.

This year over a hundred riders took their horses through the flames and smoke in the controversial ritual which residents claim brings on the blessings of Saint Anthony. The animals are sanctified, they say and “liberated from all their ills.”

Animal advocacy groups state the obvious when they say that the event is cruel and causes the horses unimaginable amounts of stress. It doesn’t take a veterinarian or a biologist to know that fire universally terrifies animals – including humans – for a reason: that the heat and smoke can burn and kill us. This is why you do not see wild animals leaping through flames recreationally in their natural habitat. It’s common sense that these animals do not expose themselves to fear and potential injury without human coercion.

It must be noted that allegedly the riders are supposed to race their horses around the burning logs and not over the flames. But you can clearly see in photographs from the event that this guideline isn’t followed.

It presents a great religious irony that residents of San Bartolome de Pinares choose to honor the patron saint of animals by torturing and frightening horses with fire. More importantly however, it gives us a glimpse into the way that religion and superstition consistently view animals as expendable, lower, and not worthy of moral consideration. To superstitious residents, this ritual is a blessing to the horses, regardless of whether the animals want to participate or not.

Residents also cite the hypocrisy of advocates who criticize the treatment of horses in San Bartolome de Pinares but do not criticize horse racing or steeplechases. One resident said that no one complains about the suffering of horses during those events.

She’s right: both of these events are equally cruel. In San Bartolome de Pinares, horses are forced to jump through fire and in the US the sport of horse racing kills a thousand horses a year. Who’s to say that one is okay and the other is cruel?

We can’t make a meaningful change by drawing arbitrary lines between some kinds of animal abuse and saying that everything to one side is acceptable and everything to the other side is abhorrent. 

We will only see an end to horrible rituals like this one and many others in Spain and across the world when we take a stand against all animal exploitation, from circuses and horse races to zoos, animal testing, meat, dairy, and eggs.

Related Stories: 

The Deadly “Sport” of Horse Racing

Stop Burning Live Bulls

Historic Victory! Spanish Region Bans Bullfighting


Photo: Mike Kirby


W. C
W. C10 months ago


William C
William C10 months ago

Thank you for caring.

Ian M.
Ian McDougall5 years ago

The sooner these backward Catholic countries come into the modern age the better.!!

Justingaberial J.
Past Member 5 years ago

I knew this blog post was existed someplace. Thanks to post such articles. Will unquestionably be using it very soon.

Amelia Coates
Amelia Coates5 years ago

wrong on so many levels. when will Spain give up torturing animals? when will the world accept that animals are not our to use and abuse? they have the exact same feelings and emotions as we have. just because the majority of humans aren't able to understand them, doesn't mean that they are here for our amusement to torture at our whim. they are intelligent beings and deserve our admiration and respect and their rightful place in this world.

Debra G.
Debra G6 years ago

It is inconceiveable that these horse owners, who I would bet say they love their horses, would put them through this kind of terror! There is a lot about Spain I cannot stand, but they are coming along. There are people, just as there are here, that are fighting for a more humane management of the animals. They have a very long ways to go, but as with any barbaric ritual, call it religious tradition and you have a fight to abolish it. No matter how cruel, and horrific it is.

Valdis Lenkevics
Valdis Lenkevics6 years ago

brainless idiots, jump yourselves into fire

Aileen C.
AILEEN C6 years ago

Its the Machismo worship that is a Medieaval Hang Over. Its time the Spainish grew up

Linda Jarsky
Linda Jarsky6 years ago

If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.
---St. Francis of Assisi

Angie r.
Angela rabon6 years ago

Just when I thought I had heard it all... another idiot comes up with an idea of animals running through fire. Those poor animals. I hope that somebody will have the courage to step forward and end this cruel event.