ANIMAL rights activists have been protesting against a circus using horses and ponies.

Members of London Animal Rights were campaigning in Blackheath, where Zippo's Circus held its show over Easter.

A dozen members protested, among them computer programmer Brendan Jones who dubbed the circus a "cruelty roadshow".

Out of 30 British circuses, only eight use animals.

Zippo's uses four horses and three ponies.

Mr Jones claims the horses are put through intensive training throughout the year and forced to stand on their hind legs.

He says they are used in circus activities from February to October and perform in around 330 shows a year.

The 40-year-old, from Bromley, said: "We were out in Blackheath to teach people about the realities of using animals in circuses.

"People already think circuses have been banned from using them, but when they speak to us after the show they usually agree it's a disgrace.

"It's obvious the horses are stressed. I've seen them in their cages.

"They are sad. They have lost their sprightliness.

"The horses perform for eight minutes and then they are back in their cages until the next show.

"This is nothing but a cruelty roadshow."

Zippo's director Martin Burton says he is tired of protesters making claims without any evidence.

He said: "The circumstances are that in every industry there are good and bad.

"The training is not intensive, there is no beating and we reward the animals with treats. This is how we train them.

"We do it calmly and we train by doing it again and again.

"We go to great lengths to make sure we are not cruel."

He added: "Horses are the world's greatest show-offs.

"They stand on their hind legs and they are fit and looking good. They love it.

"It's natural for them to stand on their hind legs. Have these people never seen stallions in the wild?"

A section in the new Animal Welfare Act, due to be brought in next year, is expected to ban the use of some wild animals in circuses.

However, it is likely circuses will be allowed to continue using horses.

An RSPCA spokesman said: "We believe the use of animals in circuses should be prohibited.

"Due to their mobile nature, circuses have to transport animals.

"They are unable to recreate the environment necessary to allow animals to express many natural behaviours.

"Animals may often be subjected to forced training, performing to timetable and performing acts which do not come naturally to them."