London, Oct. 22--(AP) Animal welfare groups said Monday they were investigating whether horses were being attacked as part of pagan-inspired rituals.

The National Equine Welfare Association said it was trying to determine whether attacks on horses increased at key dates in the pagan calendar such as Halloween. Ritualistic attacks on horses are a rare but recurrent phenomenon. In some cases horses have had their blood taken or their tails and manes cut.

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said two horses' tails had been hacked off in Scotland earlier this month. "Horse attacks do flare up," said society spokeswoman Doree Graham. "There could be a connection to some ancient calendar, or it could be opportunists making mischief with the dark nights."

The Equine Welfare Association asked owners to look out for braids woven into horses' manes, small altars where horse hair has been burned and pagan symbols such as double-headed axes. "We want to see whether these incidents link in with pagan rituals so we can warn people to be extra vigilant and take extra care," said the group's executive secretary, Elaine Cannon. "And we want to know whether these things are happening in certain parts of the country and whether they follow a date pattern."

Cannon said it was unlikely such attacks were carried out by true pagans. She said some pagans had expressed concern "about books emanating from America based on 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and aimed at teenagers."

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