This article originally appeared on VICE Romania
Ever tried browsing through Romanian stock photos? No? Well, if you had, then you'd probably have come across more than a few pictures of guys trotting through busy shopping streets on the backs of horses. Somehow these stallions have managed to bridge that cultural gap between the country's cities and its villages and carve out a place for themselves in modern day Romania.
For those after a unique insight into the country's love of horses, the market in Titu is probably the place to start. Even though it's only about 25 miles from the nation's relatively cosmopolitan capital, Bucharest, walking into the town center feels like walking into an Eastern European cowboy movie.
The horse market itself is less of a market and more of a fair. No one really buys or sells anything there, perhaps because most of those attending barely have a penny to their name. It takes place every Tuesday and it's generally treated as the week's "must-go" event. Locals show up with a horse, have a look about, possibly swap their horses for someone else's, then go home.
The event kicks off every week with the cart owners "test-driving" their horses. By that, I mean chaining their animal to a cart, inviting as many people as possible to climb onto said cart and then yelling and whipping the unfortunate animal until it begrudgingly manages to pull them forward.
This "unique" form of racing is imaginably the kind of thing that keeps RSPCA members awake at night. The poor creatures usually crack with exhaustion less than a few feet from where they start.
Amazingly enough, on the day I visited Titu, only one of the horses ended up injured. Which was odd, given that they were pulling around cartloads of men screaming all sorts of unsettling things like: "Let's kill this horse!" They said it was meant as encouragement. But to be honest, it was pretty hard to stomach.
As an outsider, I was in way over my head, but who am I to judge? It was quite obvious by the looks on people's faces that this event meant everything to them. Everyone seemed genuinely happy. Not so happy that they didn't take the time to come over and scream at me for taking pictures—but still, happy.
All in all, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't nice to witness the market's strong sense of community, but does it really have to be based on whipping the shit out of an animal?