The joke around the office when I started working here was that I would get my baptism by fire. Less than a month after my first day, I followed (albeit nervously!) The Horse's team to the AAEP Convention in Baltimore, Md., to take a shot at covering 30-odd presentations in about five days, all while still trying to remember everything horse health-related I learned from my equine science classes with Dr. Brian Nielsen and Dr. Camie Heleski at Michigan State. It wasn't a task for the faint of heart, but I somehow managed to survive. I think the "baptism by fire" approached worked in this instance, as now that the AAEP coverage is nearing its completion, I'm finding things to be pretty relaxed around here.

But the horses in this report from AFP are really baptized by fire--yes ... actual flames--in an annual celebration in San Bartolome de Pinares, Spain. According to the article, the town has celebrated "the eve of St. Anthony's day" for centuries on Jan. 16 by piling burning logs in the streets and riding their horses through the flames. The townspeople believe that the fire and subsequent smoke will purify, or baptize, their horses.

As you might imagine, the festival isn't popular among animal rights groups, who believe the horses can be hurt when they run or jump through the flames, which have been documented to reach several meters in height at times. The townspeople, however, defend the tradition, saying that they don't force the horses into the flames.

I'll admit to you that the first thing that came to mind when I saw the photos of the event was my darling event horse Dorado nearly having heart failure the first time he was asked to jump a brush jump that was more than 18 inches tall. He swears those branches were going to eat him, never mind the prospect of jumping through a pile of branches with flames shooting out the top.

But as I continued my journey through the photos, I was surprised to see the calm and quiet expressions on some of the horses' faces as they conquered the flames. That being said, other horses had so much white in their eyes that they could have been mistaken for Appaloosas proudly showing off their white scleras.

Although my digging was on the light side, I wasn't able to find out if any horses had been injured or killed in the past during the festival.

So that leaves the question ... what's your opinion of this long standing Spanish tradition??