Horses wrestled to the ground in 400-year-old ‘Shearing of the Beasts’ festival

Though more than 100 Spanish towns have made bullfighting illegal, the country still has a proud heritage of a quite different – yet still contentious – animal festival.

The violent Shearing of the Beasts ('A Rapa Das Bestas') takes place each summer in Galicia, north-western Spain.

Hundreds of fit tamers ('aloitadores') pack scores of young foals into a ring, where they leap onto them to bring them to submission and cut their hair.

For many young men in Spain, bringing down a horse is a rite of passage dating back more than four centuries.

The festival is even opened with sacred ritual prayers where priests wish for no harm to take place.

The foals are packed in like sardines and must stay there till 20 fall.

It usually takes more than two hours.

At the end, the foals are released to a village high in the mountains – but not before being branded.

Judging by the pictures taken at this year's event – which took place on Sunday (August 29) – it's a dramatic affair.

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But, like bullfighting, it's a hugely controversial one, too.

Animal rights campaigners have long been horrified by the barbaric ritual event.

PETA counts the Shearing among the "14 Worst 'Festivals' Still Taking Place Today".

The animal rights group wrote: "In this Galician event, wild horses are corralled and men and women jump on top of them, pulling their necks and tails in an attempt to wrestle them to the ground.

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"Once the horses are overcome, the “fighters” brand them and shear their manes and tails."

Campaigner Arjun Walia advised Spaniards last year to write to the country's tourist board and outlaw the festival.

He said the event put the animals in a "state of anxiety, where they are terrified".

Its roots date back to the 16th century, when local patron saint Lourenzo was gifted two horses in an attempt to combat a plague.

The Shearing is no longer seen as a silver bullet to the spread of disease.

Though it takes place outdoors, the mass gatherings which happen around the Shearing of the Beasts have probably contributed to the transmission of coronavirus.

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