A circus coming to Brighton as part of its annual May arts festival, has been met with protest from animal rights activists because of its use of horses and ponies.

The award-winning Giffords Circus will be putting on nine shows as part of the festival in May. It won the £10,000 Jerwood Circus Award in 2002 for performances featuring dancers, contortionists, strongmen and jugglers.

The circus has been touring England since it was launched in 2000 as a re-creation of the traditional 30s circus.

The acts involving horses comprise of Dutch trainer Miriam Kremers with her Friesian stallion, Ids, who she works using hand movements and body language.

Also performing is former British vaulting champion Rebecca Townsend, who has trained the circus’s new horse, a dapple grey Highland pony called Ronan.

The circus defends its use of animals.

Founder and producer Nell Gifford said: “We have a policy of zero tolerance towards animal cruelty on our show, other shows or indeed any context here or abroad.

“We believe in the genuine cross-species communication that can occur between human and equine artists in a safe and nurturing environment.”

A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesperson said: “We are aware of the forthcoming visit of Giffords Circus. To our knowledge what they do is consistent both with the law of the land and our animal welfare policies, so we would have no basis for taking any action against them.”