The Magic of Golegã
Having been inspired by my visit to Feria del Caballo; Jerez, Spain in May 2017, I’d been searching for similar events since.
I came across Feira Nacional do Cavalo, Golegã, Portugal. After looking through a few event photos, I booked almost immediately, with a fellow photographer, Jo Monck and her friend (who I hadn’t met yet) Celia.
Jo and Celia arrived at my home on a drizzly November morning and we left for the short journey to Gatwick. We spent a little too long in duty free and being an anxious flier, I like to have a small glass to calm my nerves before flying. En route to boarding (and with about 3 minutes until the gate closing) I spotted a coffee shop and had about 30 seconds to savour a glass of rose. Not recommended, I know, but I felt a little more relaxed.
After a pleasant flight, we arrived at Lisbon airport in just under 3 hours. We picked up our hire car and drove to our hotel in Tomar, arriving just after midnight.
I was up early the next morning to visit Romão Tavares stud on an organised group trip. I’d had little sleep but was buzzing with excitement. The journey to the stud was around 2 hours. It was nice to see more of Portugal in the daylight but I was shocked to see vast areas of land and forest charred and damaged by fire. The most recent fires in Portugal were one month previous and were devastating to read about.
Romão Tavares stud Romão Tavares stud Romão Tavares stud
The stud was beautiful; the house full of character and history. We were warmly welcomed and whilst we admired photos of champion stallions we enjoyed olives, cheese and local liquor. We met the young horses in the stables and went into the fields with the mares and foals. Following this we had a lovely traditional lunch before heading back to Tomar.
I couldn’t wait to get into Golegã and we got there around 9pm, the night was still young! I’d been told from someone staying in Golegã that the night before, horses had been parading the streets until 6am. As soon as we had arrived, I got a wonderful feel for the fair, it’s vibrance and atmosphere.
Golegã is now known as the horse capital of Portugal. History of the fair goes back to the 18th century. It now attracts thousands of people from all over the world, who wander and gaze in awe at the beautifully turned out Lusitano horses and riders in traditional dress. Smoke from roasting chestnuts wafts and fills the air. Street performers and musicians attract crowds of people to join them in song. The feel is friendly and heartwarming. Horses ride up and down the streets riding up to bars, cafes and even into horse friendly discos! Yes, really. The streets are full of life and the atmosphere is just magical. There are continual performances in the main arena in a central square with wonderul shows showing off the finest Lusitano horses and riders. Around the main arena is a sand track, where horses belonging to locals and those further afield parade, ride for pleasure and socialise with friends. It is not unusual for a child as young as 4 or 5 to boldly canter past, piaffe or ask their horse to take a bow; their are some highly talented young riders
Having been bedazzled by the fair from the ground, the best was yet to come. Before going out to Portugal, I had arranged for us to ride at the fair. PM Lusitanos - now Equiliberdade came to meet us on Thursday evening at the main arena and took us back to their house (rented in the town for the duration of the fair).
I couldn’t quite believe we’d be riding at the fair, I’ll admit, I started to feel pretty nervous too! I’ve ridden ever since I can remember and I have my own pony who I know inside out. Riding a much bigger Lusitano stallion amongst crowds of people with loud, dramatic music, extreme lighting and a list of things to spook at longer than my arm, I did start to think we were all slightly mad! We were provided with a lovely platter of local cheese, meats and olives and local wine and sat and chatted for an hour or so, there was no rush. Half a bottle of red wine later, the nerves had turned back to excitement.
We went to the stable area in the rear yard to meet the horses. “Who is the least confident rider?” we were asked. “Me!” my hand went straight up. I was introduced to 16 year old Uivo, a handsome grey Lusitano stallion. I had my usual ‘please look after me’ chat with him. Jo and Celia were introduced to Estrumphe and Fadista. All were wonderfully turned out with plaited manes and tails. When we were ready, we led the horses through the house (yes, you read that correctly) and into the street. Once mounted, we rode through a few ‘quiet’ streets and made our way to the centre of the town. As we approached the main riding area - the ‘manga’ we were given some advice; not to get too close to other horses, especially not mares, not to be too scared and to enjoy. As soon Uivo’s hooves had touched the sand track, we were dancing. I could tell it would be a challenging ride for me. We were running sideways, cantering on the spot and prancing whilst the others walked along calmly. I likened him to a coiled spring and was just waiting for him to explode. “Breathe” I heard called to me. Having been reminded to breathe I began to feel better (I have been guilty of this in the past, particularly in the showjumping arena). “Let’s trot” called pur leader. This settled Uivo straight away and he threw his energy into a powerful trot.
We rode around the arena for a good hour, losing all sense of direction and then around 10pm the horse show in the main arena which we were riding around began. We stopped to watch. The music was powerful, I heard parts of Carmina Burana, my heart beat faster, the atmosphere was immense. I had goosebumps. The lights in our riding area were now out, with loud music and dramatic lighting, Uivo told me he felt unsettled and we started to dance again! We took back to the streets of Golegã, The smoke filled streets were now totally swamped with people. A group of lycra clad cyclists stopped us for selfies on a quieter street. We then rode to a bar where we had shots of local liquor, ginja in edible chocolate cups, moreish. Next up, dancing! Ducking down slightly, we entered a bar and rode onto the horse ‘dancefloor’ kitted out with disco lights and music. Fadista showed us how to dance by demonstrating piaffe. It was very surreal and just wonderful. After a while we ventured off around the local streets again and got the perfect view of the fair; from between the ears. Around midnight, we took the horses back home for a well earned rest.
Shots (lots of) local liquor Ginja
For the remainder of our trip, we spent most of the day time in Tomar, rich in history with lovely shops and restaurants and of course every afternoon/ evening at Golegã experiencing the magic.
I will never forget the amazing experience we had at Feira Nacional do Cavalo, Golegã. Many treasured memories. I intend to fill my life with wonderful equestrian experiences that I will photograph and blog about. I welcome all ideas and enquiries from equestrian related businesses that may want to collaborate.
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Who I travelled with - Sussex Lusitanos
Cheers! Golegã, see you in November 2018