If you are visiting Spain in May – maybe even to experience our rides in Andalusia or Catalonia, or the Dressage Ride – then you MUST visit the Jerez Horse Fair! This festival is an annual event in Andalusia, the southwest region of Spain, homeland of the gorgeous Andalusian horse. Thousands of visitors flock to this region to see fabulous and crazy displays of horsemanship from all disciplines including western riding, classical dressage, polo and carriage driving!
The history of this fair dates all the way back to 1264, when Alfonso ‘the wise’ reconquered Jerez and granted it two annual duty-free fairs. In the Middle Ages, this was an opportunity for herders and farmers to bring livestock into town for trading. However, over the centuries, the fair became more about pleasure than business, with entertainment and socialising taking precedence over trade. In 1903, the González Hontoria fairground (known as the recinto) was opened, becoming the main event location. This vast park provided plenty of open space for the horses and allowed the event to grow bigger and bigger – and, in the same year, it was agreed that individuals and societies could build their own casetas (traditional Spanish marquees) in the recinto.
But at that stage, horses still weren’t the main focus of the event (although plenty of horses were present!). It wasn’t until 1955 that the Domecq sherry family proposed that the fair be a celebration of the horse. Set in Andalusia, there was certainly no shortage, from the working horses of the cattle farmers to the coach horses of Jerez’s aristocratic sherry families. This spark of genius allowed the festival to grow into the week-long flurry of flamenco dancing, pulsing music, prancing horses and flowing sherry that it is today.
Picture this: everywhere you look in the city, immaculately dressed, aristocratic caballeros steer their proud horses down the street, with women flaunting their finest flamenco dresses perched proudly behind them. (I don’t know about you, but sitting sideways on a horse’s rump in full flamenco garb sounds like hard work to me!) Hundreds of ornate English, Russian, Hungarian and of course Spanish carriages parade through the centre of town, while Spanish cowboys round up cattle in the middle of the park; flamenco rhythms provide a beat for classical dressage accompanied by elegant dancers, and the clack of polo mallets can be heard from a nearby lawn. If you get a little peckish after feasting your eyes on the fantastic displays of horsemanship, you can head over to the 200 casetas, where you can find extraordinary food and, of course, lots and lots of sherry!
But night time is when the city really comes alive! The colours, rhythms and spectacles of the day are replaced with over a million decorative lights as the guitarists pick up the pace, the sherry keeps flowing, and the prancing of hooves is replaced by the stomping of flamenco dancers.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be awed by thousands of horses under the warm Andalusian sun and lose myself in flamenco, music and sherry of an evening! Who’s with me?
Photo credits: Occhidaviaggio, Tourism in Spain, Strait Escapes, Jim Monk Photography, Pinterest.