Horse researcher Hayato Shimizu says he has captured a photograph of a Central Asian horse that appears to be sweating blood, apparently confirming Chinese legends of a similar horse famed for its great speed.

Shimizu, 39, said he took the picture in the western Tian Shan mountain range in Central Asia last August. The photo shows what appears to be blood running from the animal’s shoulder area.

According to Shimizu, the horse bled after running at full speed. The shoulder bulged before blood mixed with sweat ran down the horse’s side.

Some animal experts say the phenomenon is caused by a kind of parasitic worm, but its mechanism is not fully understood yet. Locals believe the bleeding is evidence the horses are strong and have surplus energy, Shimizu said.

The ancient Chinese “Shiki” histories tell of a horse that sweats blood when it runs and is able to travel nearly 4,000 km in a day.

According to the tales, a Han Dynasty emperor sent entire armies to catch the fabled steed. The emperor reported in the histories that such horses lived in a region along the Silk Road covering modern-day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Shimizu, who has been conducting research into the culture of equestrian peoples in Central Asia since 1995, heard from locals that horses sweating blood could still be seen near Tian Shan.

He is expected to announce his discovery at a meeting of the Japanese Society of Equine Science to be held at the University of Tokyo from April 30.

“In the Shiki, it is written that such a horse would bleed near the shoulder, which accords with what I confirmed,” Shimizu said. “This is a rare example connecting the ancient Silk Road period and contemporary times.”

“This is a very rare and precious picture,” said Masumi Suezaki, an employee of a Yokohama horse museum. “Although some believed the horses appeared to be sweating blood because their arteries stood out and their entire bodies became red, maybe the ancient tales refer to a horse actually bleeding like this one.”

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