Network for Animals campaigns against the cruel practice of horse fighting, a blood sport prevalent on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. There is no justification for the level of cruelty involved in horse fighting: It is an outdated spectator blood sport, which celebrates pain and suffering.
In a horse fight, two stallions are incited to fight each other, over a mare in season. They bite, kick and strike with their hooves, inflicting serious injuries until one of them submits, flees or is killed. Gouges, gashes and broken limbs sustained during fights are serious and can be fatal. Currently, thousands of horses are involved in hundreds of fights throughout the southern Philippines, with some fiestas organizing up to twenty fights per day over a three-day period.
Events are conducted in city stadiums or large fenced in areas before raucous crowds who attend in anticipation of intense fighting, gore and death. With high stakes in the balance, most horse fights involve purpose bred and trained animals who are large, sturdy and aggressive, but of course undeserving. The training process is brutal, involving pulling heavy sleds up hills to build strength, and fights with other horses, which handlers control by tying long ropes around the horse’s necks.
While most fights last about 15 minutes, many can go on for up to 3 hours. In one reported instance, a fight lasted 6 hours, ending only because one of the horses was so badly injured and exhausted, he was no longer able to stand up. Veterinary observers of these fights report:
- Horses being struck with such force that their eyes literally pop out of their sockets.
- Horses having their entire ears torn off during fights.
- Horses dying, drenched in blood from their injuries.
The animal welfare act (Republic Act 8485) outlawed all horse fighting in 1998, however, with penalties ranging from a minimum of 1000 pesos (£10) to a maximum of 5000 pesos (£50), horse fighting organizers pay little heed to the law and the events take place in broad daylight in public areas. In fact not one person has been prosecuted for engaging in horse fighting since the passage of RA 8485 in 1998.
Horse fighting is billed as a cultural tradition specific to indigenous communities, and amazingly is prominent enough to receive local television coverage and municipal support via cash prizes and sponsorship from local businesses. While horse fighting is promoted under the guise of tradition, the main reason it is prevalent is gambling, with bets reaching £2000.
Modest attempts to curtail horse fighting have been instituted by the national government’s Animal Welfare Division, but to no avail. Local government is fiercely protective of the activity and generally defies the national government’s authority on the issue, to the extent that local police are often hired by the promoters for crowd control.
How Network For Animals Aim To End Horse Fighting
Enforcement: Currently there is absolutely no enforcement of RA 8485 by local or national authorities. Network is in the process of facilitating cooperation between local and national authorities and building capacity and political will in order to encourage future enforcement. Training sessions are planned to take place in all horse fighting communities so that police are aware of the law and procedures for combating the practice.
Legislative Change: Current Philippines legislation banning the practice of horse fighting is inadequate in that the penalties are minimal. Network is working with animal friendly politicians to upgrade these penalties.
Education: Educating the public about the animal welfare concerns inherent in horse fighting is a crucial part of our work. Network regularly solicits television stations and newspapers to cover the horse fighting issue, thereby reaching hundreds of thousands of people with our message of compassion. Additionally, we print and distribute educational leaflets and posters in horse fighting areas, give presentations to veterinarians, schools and civic groups, and when funding allows, run advertisements in newspapers.
Local Ordinances: Local ordinances outlawing horse fighting can be effective regulatory tools, with local government invested in enforcing laws that they themselves have drafted. Network encourages and works with municipal governments to enact and enforce local ordinances targeting horse fighting.
Funding Veterinary Care: Veterinary services for horses in the Philippines are very basic and often too expensive for impoverished local farmers who enter their horses in tournaments. Network provides free veterinary clinics in communities where horse fighting is prevalent as an incentive to stop horse fighting. Our veterinarians not only provide care for immediate problems, but also provide advice on long term care for horses and work to instil a sense of compassion towards horses.
Letter Writing Campaigns: Tourism is a vital source of revenue for the southern Philippines, an area that has an abundance of world class diving locations and beaches. Network works to generate letters from potential tourists asking local government to eradicate horse fighting or risk losing tourist revenue.
Get Involved: Together We Will End Horse Fighting
Write to the ambassador for the Philippines in London to express your outrage that the cruel practice of horse fighting continues to operate in flagrant disregard for animal welfare legislation and without consideration for the protection of horses.