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In PHOTOS: Horse wrestling in Spain

Last updated on: July 5, 2011 10:15 IST

In PHOTOS: Horse wrestling in Spain

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An ancient festival in Galicia, Spain -- the Rapa Das Bestas -- is an old practice of 'Taming the Beasts' and is thought to date back to the Bronze Age.

Men and women alike would wrestle the untamed horses to the ground with their hands and arms to cut their manes and tails. It is considered a noble tradition where man pits his strength against a beast without ropes or weapons and only using his bare hands and courage.

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Image: Horses fight during the 'Rapa Das Bestas' traditional event in the Spanish northwestern village of Sabucedo
Photographs: Miguel Vidal/Reuters
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This Spanish fiesta goes on for three days of which after the horses are sent up to the hillside again and it does not involve cruelty and death.

Perhaps the most famous event is in Sabucedo, a small village in Pontevedra which holds the Rapa das Bestas over a three-day period at the beginning of July.

It differs from other Rapas in that no ropes or other tools are seen -- just bare hands and skill to wrestle the untamed horses to the ground.


Image: Revellers try to hold on to a wild horse

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Horse wrestling in Spain

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There is a legend to the history of the tradition in Sabucedo; that in the mid-16th century, two elderly sisters prayed to Sabucedo's patron saint, San Lorenzo, to deliver the people of the plague which had struck the village.

The village was saved and, in return, the sisters offered a pair of horses which were set free in the mountains -- the beginnings of the herds which now live in the wild above the village. 


Image: A reveller tries to hold on to a wild horse

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The event in Sabucedo was declared National Tourist Interest in 1963 and International Interest in 2007. It takes place over the first Saturday, Sunday and Monday of July, starting with an early morning mass on the Saturday.

Then at around 7am, the herders set off in search of the beasts, more than 600 horses divided into 14 herds which live in the wild across more than 200 km of mountain land.


Image: Revellers try to hold on to a wild horse

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The local population is normally little more than 150 people, but numbers swell every summer, as hundreds descend upon this tiny village to watch the spectacle.

The rapa takes place in the curro, a traditional corral where the owners take all the beasts that have been rounded up to divide them up into groups the day before the big event.


Image: Wild horses are seen gathered

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When the action gets underway the most expert stockbreeders, known as agarradores (someone who seizes), grapple with the animal until they are able to control it enough to brand it and cut off its mane.

Once the struggle is over a wild fiesta begins, celebrating the subduing of the animal.


Image: Horses fight during the 'Rapa Das Bestas' traditional event

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The curros are hidden away in the mountains of the north and centre of Galicia, sprinkled among the massifs close to the coast of La Coruna and Pontevedra.

The latter hosts the majority of the celebrations, unlike Ourense, where the last rapas took place years ago because, as the locals say, "os cabalos comenos os lobos" ('The wolves eat our horses').


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Revellers try to hold on to a wild horse during the 'Rapa Das Bestas' event in the village of Sabucedo



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Organisers say that more than 20,000 people poured into Sabucedo during the weekend. A total of 131 journalists and 60 photographers from around the world have been accredited to provide coverage to the event


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Revellers try to hold on to a wild horse during the Rapa Das Bestas



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