Cossack riders in a popular circus act are being targeted by activists who claim they are cruel to horses.
Protestors staged a demonstration outside Zippos Circus in Hove near Brighton in Sussex in the UK.
They claimed the Cossack riders – whose horsemanship has been celebrated since the 13th century – were being cruel by hanging off the horses.
The riders – who hail from the west-central region of Russia – insisted they love their performing animals and regard them as part of the family.
Circus director Martin Burton said the six protestors were wrong and defended the cossacks.
He said: “I’ve heard people claim they hang off the horses’ necks.
“They don’t. You’ll see if you come – it’s the shoulder, which is where a horse has most of its strength.
“Just because you’re making a living with your animals doesn’t mean you’re abusing them.
“You have them because you love them and want to look after them.”
The troupe’s five horses are used in a traditional Cossack circus act featuring the Khadikov family from Kazakhstan.
The performance is based on traditional horseback military techniques.
In April, an official veterinary inspection found the horses “appeared in good health, free from external signs of infection or disease, and fit to be transported and to appear in performances in the circus.”
Protestor Alexandra Wolfe wrote online: “Just a friendly post to urge people not to go to Zippos while it’s in town.
“They are using animals in their show.
“Myself and some other activists peacefully stood outside yesterday, we saw the horses who look pretty skinny, standing looking very glum in a very small enclosure.”