Seville Horse Fair
At the end of November last year I took a quick break to Spain to refresh before the Christmas rush.Sadly the friend who had helped me plan the trip, was taken ill, and at the very last moment, so I travelled out on my own. Luckily I was able to stay with friends Pen and Kit Hogg, who live in the folds of the hills near Rhonda. It was their hotel in Morocco where I had stayed earlier in the year, and I was pleased to hear that since my last visit, they had won an award for Tourism Excellence, so now they are busier than ever.
On arriving at Malaga, not quite ready to drive and map read at the same time, I took a self imposed driving lesson, which involved driving around the underground car park a number of times until I was familiar with the car, driving on the right and the kaleidoscope of signs. I think the car rental people had seen it all before, from the expressions on their faces.
Pen and Kits home could be mistaken as a safari lodge with tall bamboo growing to a great height leading down to the river, which flows through their land. Tough grasses grow between the orange and lemon groves, and where you might well imagine there could be a Rhino ambling through the bamboo, you actually see a large, proud Bull Terrier, – El Bastule to give him his full name, performing usual terrier behaviour.
The highlight of my visit was a trip to Seville to visit SICAB, the Autumn Horse Fair. I was kindly driven there through the most torrential rainstorms. No other event in the world brings together such a large number of pure bred Spanish horses, some 1200! Everywhere there were rows of exquisite Spanish Horses: the warmbloods, the beautiful Andalucians and the country horses. They were all there. So were the crowds, and what an elegant and well dressed bunch of people they were too. I saw some wonderful demonstrations of horsemanship,with amazing horses and riders, dressed up in their stunning riding dress. As inspiring as watching Flamenco dancing.
The finale was the Espectaculo a fantasia of equestrianism. It started with a pageantry of El Rocio, a re-enactment of one the most famous of the Easter pilgrimages that has now reached cult status. The story dates back to 13th century when a local hunter discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary in a tree trunk. A Chapel was built on the site and become a place of pilgrimage. El Rocio takes place every year during Pentecost, and to witness it, is to be transported back in time; all the locals wear traditional Andalucian dress, the men in wide brimmed hats and traje corto (grey, brown or black trousers with leather chaps and boots) and the women, in very full skirted flamenco style dresses . Some still make the journey to the Chapel in gypsy style covered wagons, adorned with flowers, pulled by pairs of oxen; then the statue of the Virgin, La Paloma Blanca is carried, precariously by ox cart to the next chapel where it is venerated by all the crowds.
El Rocio was followed by a fantastic display of carriage racing. The Spanish still have a strong tradition of carriage driving, and it was thrilling to see teams of four (horses) racing at top speed around the arena. This was followed by a very moving piece of choreography, two seated men, a flamenco guitarist and a soloist performed an exquisite song, whilst around them two horseman slowly turned their horses around a long pole that they were carrying. This was a stick that the riders use to work the bulls when they are out in the fields. It was like a piece of visual poetry,but it was very complicated and required extreme compliance from the horses and years of training. The show ended with a performance which quite honestly left me speechless. A trainer entered the ring with six perfectly matching bay horses. No feathers, no plumes just ultimate simplicity, but their performance was perfection. With a simple hunch of the trainer’s shoulders, the horses would rear up, in perfect time, spin on their haunches, turn in the opposite direction and canter off around the circle at an exact distance and at an exact pace. The atmosphere in the arena was magical, next on came three perfectly matching dun horses, and out went three of the bays, leaving three bays and three duns in the ring. The horses divided with seemingly no command and each group of three performed an exact figure of eight around each other, and then pulled back to continue in their circle. In the last act all the horses reared up, but then with no command, the three bays walked backwards out of the arena, whilst the other three duns walked forwards and exited with their trainer walking between them. With his back to the audience he quietly slipped away into the darkness of the back stage, leaving us all completely spell bound. I have tried to find out the name of this trainer, but to no avail, I will keep trying.