Illegal, cruel horse-fighting in Mindanao alive and kicking

A vice-governor even gave the welcoming remarks and personally handled "bundles of thousands of money submitted by cristos or bet collectors," said NFA's Jill Alipio who was at the derby. 

But promoters get the biggest profits from taking 10% to 20% of all the winnings of victorious bettors. 

It's not easy to forego all that money because of an ordinance. 

Mel Alipio said organizers are now more careful. They limit the duration of derbies to one day from the usual 3 days. They now take place in even more secluded areas, far from town or village centers. And if they used to ask for permits from LGUs to hold the event, they now refrain from doing so. 

Slow, painful death

While human gamblers and organizers are salivating from the promise of big winnings, the horses are salivating in fear during a fight.

For them, horse fights are a prelude to a tortuous death. 

A veterinarian who requested anonymity said that the horses usually die from internal bleeding after a kick from his adversary.

"Because a kick is more painful than a bite. The kick of a horse from behind is 10 times more powerful than [Manny] Pacquiao. Two days after, sometimes, one week after, they die. That's a slow, very painful death. Others are just killed off by their owners," he told Rappler.

Horses sustain severe injuries from biting. Jill Alipio said she has seen a horse bite off another horse's testicles. Another time, a horse's jaw was dislocated. 

"Ganyan ka-cruel ang mga tao. Alaga, partner sa life, iaaway. Kung tingin nila hopeless, papatayin nila (That's how cruel humans are. A pet, a partner in life, then they are made to fight. If they are hopeless, they will be killed)," said the veterinarian. 

Injured horses have been forced to fight for 5 hours. Recently though, organizers have imposed a one-hour limit – not out of kindness but to give other pairs a chance to fight, said Alipio.

INDUCED AGGRESSION. Before a fight begins, male horses are brought near mares in heat and restrained to induce aggressive behavior. Photo by NFA Philippines

INDUCED AGGRESSION. Before a fight begins, male horses are brought near mares in heat and restrained to induce aggressive behavior.

Photo by NFA Philippines

Cruel also is the training regimen the fighter-horses must endure.

One practice is teaching a horse how to "box" by holding them up with rope and forcing them to jab the air as if they were boxing.

To teach the horse to be merciless, they are put in a fake arena with a goat which they are expected to clobber to death.

Some horses become so aggressive that, in more than one instance, they have killed their masters, said Alipio. 

Bigger battle

But with the ordinance and presence of concerned animal rights advocates, a greater battle is taking place outside the ring.

NFA has been attempting to wean off people from the culture of horse-fighting. Alipio said they have been around Bukidnon, Davao Del Sur, and Cotabato offering free vaccination for horses. 

"During vaccination, before injection we say we will attend to this animal, we will give you medicine, we will give vitamins to the malnourished, but if possible don't make them fight. The next time we see you, we won't attend to your horse. Because what's the use, we will cure them then you will make them fight?" 

But the going is tough. Even if people did start to take pity on their animals, the lure of money often overpowers, said Alipio.

Horse-fighting organizers also often have strong ties with political figures or wealthy businessmen who themselves stand to gain from the horsefights. 

A cycle of greed and connivance traps the horses better than any bamboo ring would.

But progress has been made. Three months after the anti-horse-fighting ordinance in Bukidnon was issued in June 2014, police were able to stop a derby being held in Mandaing village, Cabanglasan in Bukidnon.

But the derbies are likely to continue if the organizers or funders remain at large. 

The Animal Welfare Act of 1998 is supposed to protect horses. But can a law stand up to an entrenched practice? Or will horse-fighting evolve to be as accepted as cock-fighting?

The more delayed the answer, the more horses will fall, bloodied, inside the ring. –

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at