AFP

TIANTOU VILLAGE

 Hooves clash in mid-air, a stallion bites his opponent while delighted spectators cheer wildly — in southern China some saw in the Year of the Horse by watching the animals fight.

For the residents of Tiantou, a remote village in the Guangxi region, the 500-year-old tradition which pits male horses against each other in a fight over a female was the only way to kick off the Lunar New Year.

“Without horse fighting it wouldn’t feel like a new year,” said Pan Jianming, whose horse Little Black reared-up on its hind legs and bit its opponent’s neck to scoop victory in a competition this weekend.

“He stood up and hit the other horse straight away,” Pan, a 31-year-old air conditioner repairman, said.

“If he likes the female horse, it doesn’t matter how much pain he’s in, he won’t run away,” he added, his black and white shirt stained with blood which dripped from a gash on his horse’s nose.

“We have medicine to treat his injuries, and he will gradually get better,” added Pan, who claimed a champion’s prize of 500 yuan ($80).

Fifteen animals fought in bouts, which saw horses jump into the air with their front hooves spinning before crashing down on their opponents and biting their head or neck, sometimes drawing hair and blood.

Horse fighting competitions held by the Miao - an ethnic group living in mountain areas of Southern China and Southeast Asia — date back more than five centuries, according to locals.