Villages in southern China ring in Chinese New Year with horse fighting

Two male horses battle on Sunday as part of Tiantou’s Chinese New Year celebration. Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images.

In several small villages throughout the southern regions of China, a grisly 500-year-old tradition kicked off the Chinese New Year last week.

According to a report from l’Agence France-Presse, members of the Miao ethnic group have been holding horse fighting competitions for more than five centuries. These tournaments, which offer prizes of up to 10,000 yuan (around $1,650), are held year-round, but are occurring more frequently as the Year of the Horse begins.

The horses are pushed to kick and bite each other by the presence of a female. Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images.

“We used to hold horse fights just once a year, but now we do it more often. Because this is the Year of the Horse, we are even more happy,” Zhou Tingyi, who presided over the fights in Tiantou — a village in the Guangxi region — said this weekend.

Two male horses are encouraged to fight over a mare, which, according to the AFP, is “kept metres away from the clashing pairs by a villager armed with little more than a stick.”

The winning stallion is the one that “successfully defends its position close to the female.”

Hundreds of spectators gather to watch the fights, with little separating them from the action. Above, two trainers attempt to corral a stallion. Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images.

At Tiantou’s New Year competition — which also features costumes, dances and other forms of pageantry — barriers don’t separate attending villagers and tourists from the clashing beasts.

“Without horse fighting, it wouldn’t feel like a new year,” said trainer Pan Jianming, whose horse Little Black won a competition this weekend.

Members of the Miao minority group dress as spirits as part of the traditional New Year events. Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images.

Animals Asia — a Hong Kong-based foundation — has condemned the practice, calling the fighting a “horrific spectacle” that causes “abuse and suffering to animals in the name of entertainment.”

Tiantou’s villagers, dressed in traditional costumes, dance on Sunday during the New Year celebrations. Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images.

A video of the fighting is available on YouTube.

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