“Le Camargue” and its Centaurs, “Les Gardians”
Traveling the world to find wonderful landscapes full of wild horses is the dream of any passionate equestrian. See horse shows in a land that besides being full of horses has riders to match is a fantasy come true. We find this in a region of France called “Le Camargue”. There we find wonderful shows in a land of marshes and coasts full of horses, bulls and flamingos.
Those of us who love horses dream of traveling the world, to find these spectacle. This dream and many others can come true in Le Camargue region of France, a region that is a small independent country run by “Les Gardians” as long as they preserve the cultural heritage of the region and maintain the delicate balance of the ecosystem that there it unfolds.
When we travel to these natural paradises what we are looking for is the place where we can spend our retirement and perhaps die, although we hope that this will never happen. Every time we travel and we meet these wonders we know a little more about ourselves. It is the possibility of seeing our soul through the wonders of our world.
The destinations we choose speak a lot about us and obviously the passion for horses leads us to innumerable destinations full of these precious animals. Turning into reality that adventure that is in our dreams is the purpose of travel.
How is Le Camargue?
Le Camargue has a unique energy, strong and natural, with a mosaic of desolate and swampy landscapes. Le Camargue simple and authentic, without pretensions whose great beauty lies precisely in being absent from “makeup”. Filled with nature, with traditions, cultures and friendly people, Le Camargue is a return to the origins.
Le Camargue is located between the Rhone delta and the Mediterranean Sea, in the old Oc language, “Cap marca” means “The one that has no limit”.
The green colors of Le Camargue produce a very special state of reverie … But we will also find other colors: the white horses, the black bulls and the pink flamingos. Time seems suspended in these immense humid plains of extraordinary beauty, thousands of acres of marshes, dunes, pastures and salt flats that stand against everything and where time is suspended.
The horse of Le Camargue is strong and intelligent, with a characteristic ability to turn on itself very quickly. Despite its short stature its power is seen when riding alongside the bulls that carry from one point to another through beaches and marshes in their festivals.
Les Saintes Marie de la Mer (The Holy Marys of the Sea)
This population knew how to preserve its soul, behind the backs of the onslaught of the mistral wind. Walk through its cobbled streets, enjoy the sea, participate in the bullfighting shows, in which the animal is not killed and live its great passion, which are horses. Every year on July 14, the most important equestrian fair in France is held here for five days.
It is quite a spectacle in this city the pilgrimage of the gypsies. From the twelfth century they meet here every year on May 24 and 25 to visit their patron saint, Sara La Negra. They arrive from all the places of the world in their caravans and carts. During those days the streets and squares of Saintes Marie are filled with music, dances and multicolored clothes. Many of them have abandoned their nomadic life to settle in these marshy lands.
In the ninth century and before the threat of the Saracens, its fortified church was built with an adarve that surrounds the entire building. We can go through the fortified church, seeing from the heights wonderful views. It houses the reliquaries of the three Marías that are in a crypt built in the choir. That’s where the name of the site comes from …
We arrive at Aigues Mortes by a very quiet local road. This road allows us to enjoy the landscape and make stops to get closer to the herds of horses.
This medieval city is the capital of the Petite Camargue, it was a port in its origin. Currently the city is located inland, eight kilometers from the coast. The town was founded in 1241 and was built in the area of salt marshes, salt lakes and lagoons, that’s why its name “Aguas Muertas”. The city was fortified in 1272 and wandering through its small and twisted streets means discovering the soul of the Camargue.
Here in the marshes, bulls and horses live in semi-freedom, in herds, which their caretakers, the gardians, watch over. The term gardians comes from the Occitan expression “gardo-besti”, which means guardian of the beasts. The name of gardians very suitable for these excellent riders who care for the “manades” of brave bulls on the backs of their white horses, dressed in black hats with wide brim and colorful shirts.
Who governs Le Camargue?
Le Camargue is owned by the gardians with one condition: that they take care that no type of environmental alteration is committed and that they maintain the traditions. If they did not do so, the government of the Camargue would pass into the hands of the French government, because this area is an “independent republic” within France, with its rules, its laws and its way of life.
In the Camargue we can see a spectacle similar to the Spanish encierros. In these shows the black bulls with large and sharp horns run into an enclosure specially closed with talanqueras. Meanwhile, the intrepid gardians, mounted on their camargue horses, direct the herd at great speed with a three-pronged pike called trident.
Behind the barriers installed along the route, spectators applaud this loose bull: the abrivado (in English: Confinement) is an ancient tradition that has now become a spectacle in which riders show off their skills.
A little more about the Abrivado
One of the most important equestrian festivals is the abrivado, which is held every year on November 11 on the beaches of Saintes Maries. It gathers more than a thousand horses from all over Provence and more than 200 gardians.
Along 7 km, the horses, in large herds and with the riders dressed in the traditional style, have to lead the bulls to the fold, between the waves of the sea, the sand of the beach and the festive atmosphere. The abrivado is repeated in many Provencal parties, but here it has the attraction of the beach and the marshes.
The secrets of Le Camargue
They have known how to keep the secrets of these lands. Perhaps it is their horse that is their greatest secret. The equatorial camargue breed lives semi-wild in the swamps for centuries. They are surviving in almost extreme conditions based on hard grass and salt water, which makes them strong and strong. This makes the Camarguean race special, which has hardened through natural selection.
Although their coat looks white, they are really “gray” in color. At birth they have black or dark brown fur, which when they become adults becomes a very special and radiant “white”.
Of short stature, they are strong and intelligent and naturally possess a very characteristic ability, which is to turn round about themselves very quickly.
The show offered by Le Camargue is very much in keeping with the motto of the French Revolution “Freedom, equality and franternity”. Freedom when we see the mares and their foals following the stallion of the herd through the marsh, in a unique show. And to be able to travel this landscape on the back of a white camargue horse. It is an experience that all horse lovers must experience at some time.
A show for horse lovers and lovers of nature in general with a mosaic of landscapes ranging from dunes, beaches to marshes. A spectacle that you can not miss, Le Camargue…
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