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Swimming horses race across Venezuela's Apure River

The Associated Press reports from Apure, Venezuela — At the blast of a whistle, a half dozen horses plunge into the Apure River and set out for the distant shore in a unique annual spectacle commemorating a historic battle.

Thousands of cowboys and their families gather to watch each year on the anniversary of a 1819 battle fought by soldiers led by independence heroes Simon Bolivar and Gen. Jose Antonio Paez.

Paez and about 150 soldiers swam across the river alongside their horses, then attacked and defeated a force of more than 1,000 Spanish troops who had been sent to quash their rebellion, which eventually led to independence.

Today, only the horses do the swimming, as competitors in canoes guide them across the river. Read more.

Ariana Cubillos / AP

Horses jump into the Apure River during a weekend of traditional horse races across the waterway in San Fernando de Apure, Venezuela.

Ariana Cubillos / AP

A man jumps off his canoe to run for the finish line with his horse during a race across the Apure River in San Fernando de Apure, Venezuela.

Ariana Cubillos / AP

A girl watches horse races across the Apure River in San Fernando de Apure, Venezuela.

Ariana Cubillos / AP

Horses reach the shore led by horsemen as they dash for the finish line during a weekend of horse races across the Apure River in San Fernando de Apure, Venezuela.

Ariana Cubillos / AP

Cattleman Eduardo Contreras celebrates after winning one of the horse races across the Apure River in San Fernando de Apure, Venezuela.