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Gallery: Horses ride through fire in ancient Spanish religious festival

(WARNING: Some readers may find the images below and video footage above disturbing):

VIDEO:  Villagers ride horses through fires at festival on eve of St. Anthony’s feast day in Spain (Jan. 17)

The cobbled streets of San Bartolome de los Pinares, a village in central Spain, were filled with smoke and the clatter of horse hooves on Thursday night as residents marked the eve of the feast day of Saint Anthony.

In a tradition that dates back hundreds of years, dozens of  horsemen known as Las Luminarias ride as close as they dare to bonfires that line the street.

Some even force their steeds through the centre of the flames.

According to ancient tradition, the fiesta is meant to cleanse the horses of disease and bring good luck for the coming year.

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Animal right groups have condemned the practice, saying the animals suffer.

Local resident Borja Ramirez, however, disagrees.

“Once they get used to it, once they are taught and get used to it, they are very brave,” he said.

Below is a look at some images from Spain’s festival to honour St. Anthony, patron saint of animals:

A man rides a horse through a bonfire as part of a ritual in honor of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of animals, in San Bartolome de Pinares, about 100 km west of Madrid, Spain on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. (Photo credit: AP Photo)
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A horse and rider pass through a burning pyre in the central Spanish village of San Bartolome de Pinares on Jan. 16, 2014 during celebrations for the feast of Saint Anthony, patron saint of animals. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
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A horse and rider walk over a burning pyre in the central Spanish village of San Bartolome de Pinares on Jan. 16, 2014 during celebrations for the feast of Saint Anthony, patron saint of animals. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
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A man drinks wine next to a bonfire during a ritual in honor of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of animals, in San Bartolome de Pinares, about 100 km west of Madrid, Spain on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. (Photo credit: AP Photo)
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A horse and rider walks over a burning pyre in the central Spanish village of San Bartolome de Pinares on Jan. 16, 2014. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
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A horse and rider jump over a burning pyre in the central Spanish village of San Bartolome de Pinares on Jan. 16, 2014 during celebrations for the feast of Saint Anthony, patron saint of animals. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
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A horse and rider jump over a burning pyre in the central Spanish village of San Bartolome de Pinares on Jan. 16, 2014. (POhoto credit: Getty Images)
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