I was recently fortunate enough to attend an incredible festival in the French city of Tarbes, which is nestled into the foothills of the stunning Pyrenees mountains. Equestria Festival is a celebration of all things equus. It’s like a breed show, but with added llamas. It’s like a gymkhama, but with world class performances every night. It’s like a royal show, but you don’t have to pretend to be interested in cars or sponge cakes. It’s an all-ages, all-abilities, open-door invitation to enjoy the world of horses. Every night, jaw-dropping horsemanship and creative performances (think Cavalia) are on offer in the big tent, but that’s by no means the main attraction. In fact, to be honest, there is no main attraction. The beauty of Equestria is the atmosphere, and the surprises!
It’s held in July at the old National Stud Farm, which was created by Napoleon in 1806 and has changed little since, with row after row of beautiful stables filled with inquisitive horses ranging from local Mérens mountain horses to miniature ponies to teams of burly Ardennais. And you can say hello to all of them!!
You never know who you’ll encounter, both in terms of horses and in terms of people. People ride for the first time here, while professional riders do demonstrations in the arena alongside. There’s no snobbery, and no stress: sitting down for a drink, I watched a woman riding past bareback and bridle-less, with two horses following her alongside. Shortly they were passed by the tiniest little harness pony pulling three children up the path. A girl who couldn’t have been over five years old paraded her noble steed, a rotund black Shetland, through the crowds for hours, her chin held high, a pretty picture in a bright pink shirt to match the pony’s ear covers, saddle blanket and leg wraps.
Over 300 horses and 500 riders, performers and artists of all kinds meet at Equestria to create beautiful equestrian art of all kinds. There truly is something for everyone, and you don’t have to know what you’re looking for in order to have a good time! Equestria exemplifies the attitude of the French towards riding: enjoyment before perfection; laughter before frustration; shared learning before individual success.
Globetrotters, if you’re ever in France, get yourself along to this most enjoyable of festivals and revel in whatever comes your way, whether it neighs, brays or bellows!
Image credits: Rowena Edwards.