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The Spanish festival where horses run through bonfires

For at least 100 years, it's been a tradition in the village of San Bartolomé de Pinares to ride horses through fire as a cleansing ritual

by Steven Bartus
Feb 5 2019, 2:24pm

SAN BARTOLOME DE PINARES, Spain — As Pedro Martín Muñoz tells it, his town's annual fiery ritual leaves everyone feeling "purified for the whole year." Even the horses.

The residents of San Bartolomé de Pinares, north of Madrid, recently held their annual festival known as Las Luminarias, where the locals ride their horses through bonfires on the streets of their village, on the eve of the feast of Saint Anthony, Spain's patron saint of domestic animals.

According to local lore, the tradition dates back centuries and started as an attempt to purify farm animals during a time of disease. Now it continues as a roisterous festival that draws hundreds of attendees for a "magical night," Martín, president of the Association for the Defense of the Luminarias, told VICE News.

"We would give our lives for this celebration, anyone of us here," he said. "To us, this is a magical night, both for the townspeople and the visitors."

Animal rights organizations have criticized the festival in past years for its treatment of the horses, but Martín says they enjoy the night as much as the riders do.

"If you're here tonight, you will see that the horses walk through the fires and the streets calmly," he said. "I put my feet apart, let go of the reins, and my horse walks over all the embers around the village on his own free will."

This segment originally aired January 28, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.