TRADITIONAL horse races on a public road 60km outside Cape Town have been captured by drone footage for the first time.
The annual Mamre Wild Flower Festival attracts scores of horses from surrounding areas to compete in the unofficial races.
Drone footage shows young riders challenging one another on a gravel road outside Mamre to see who has the fastest horse.
As many as six horses, all unsaddled, take part in each race. However, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has raised concerns about the event.
“We are against all racing of animals,” said Colette Mang, chairman of the Swartland SPCA. “Horses might be injured, taken on long trips, ridden to the race, not well treated, and we don’t think it’s right.”
Allegations of gambling and gangsterism in the shadowy world of “bush racing” have also sparked fears that criminals are involved.
But a resident in neighbouring Atlantis said the races were traditional and no gangsters or informal betting is involved.
“All the kids would want to have a horse to ride on that day because that’s what we do,” said Reagan Fortuin.
“There are people viewing it, but I can promise you that I’ve never been to one where betting was involved, there was no gambling, no gangsters. It’s just kids having fun.”
It is common practice for children in Mamre to be given a horse. Many in the area believe horse-racing events keep youngsters out of gangs.
“In America, when a child turns 16 they get a car,” said Mang. “But in Mamre, when a child turns 16 they receive a horse.”
A SPCA inspector who lives in Mamre, Stephanie Fortuin, said she has not received any reports of injured horses at the annual races.
The City of Cape Town said it is not aware of the event or of notorious bush racing.
“This horse race has only come to my attention recently and I’ve never heard of it before,” said Leon Wentzel, chief of animal welfare and marine and environmental management law enforcement unit.
“It definitely cannot be a common practice (or) we would have received complaints before. But we will keep our eyes peeled and intervene if necessary.”
Bush racing, which is the darker side of illegal horse racing, is purported to take place in neighbouring Atlantis and as far afield as Mitchell’s Plain and Delft.
Thoroughbred horses, often stolen, are allegedly raced by gangsters, with large amounts of money wagered on the outcome.
Earlier this year retired race horse Maximum Flo had to be euthanased after being stolen in Philippi and allegedly ridden in a bush race.
Cape Town SPCA chief executive Allan Perrins has said bush racing is hard to infiltrate due to the fear of the community and the secrecy surrounding it.