Dozens of horses galloped through bonfires and a thick cloud of smoke in the narrow and cobbled streets of a hilltop village in Spain.
It could be a scene straight out of the Medieval times, but in San Bartolome de Pinares, northwest of Madrid, the Luminarias festival occurs every year on the eve of Saint Anthony the Abbot, the patron saint of animals.
The Catholic tradition dates back centuries when a deadly plague swept the village killing many animals.
Smoke is believed to purify and protect the horses all year long.
The festival attracts around 100 horses and their riders and even more observers pack the village whose population has dwindled over the years.
The majority of festival participants live outside the village now and no longer need horses to work.
But the tradition and the passion for the animals keeps the horses around.
Leticia Martin’s parents and grandparents were born in San Bartolome de Pinares, and she has been riding horses in the Luminarias since she was 13.
Today, 26-year-old Martin is a physical therapist living in Madrid.
But her love for horses and her family’s village keep her coming every year.
“When you arrive at City Hall, and all the animals are gathered, the bagpipes start playing and the blessing begins, it is a very special moment,” she said.
After the blessing is given, horses then begin to gallop through a circuit of bonfires and their consequential smoke, sometimes slipping on the cobbled stones and scraping people gathered along the narrow streets of the village.
Animal rights groups criticize the tradition arguing it is stressful to the animals and can result in injuries or burns.
But riders say they take all the necessary measures to make sure the horses are not hurt.
The biggest risk is for the manes and tails to catch on fire they say, but braiding the manes and wrapping the tails tight protects them.
The festival has been attracting more visitors every year, especially photographers and documentary filmmakers who are fascinated by the image of horses leaping out of flames and smoke.