Hold the sherry, show me the horse

Well, if I was craving horses since my last enounter in Hong Kong, I can honestly say I have had my fair share of them here in Jerez.

I never knew that this place is the centre of Sherry making – and there are so many varieties more than my granma used to tipple before dinner… But that’s not why I came.

I managed to time my visit with the annual equestrian fair of Andalucia – a feast of sherry, horses, flamenco and bullfight.

I forewent the last of them, and left before there was bloodshed, at least that shed by animals; can’t stand the blood of innocents.

Not knowing what to expect, we arrived at our comparatively downmarket Ibis Hotel, snoozed to recover from our journey, and took a taxi to the Feria.

We arrived around 5.30, while the parade of horse-drawn carriages was still in full swing, and the bars were just starting to crank up the music.

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We entered into an enormous enormous park festooned with a gazillion lights, a gazillion humans, and half a gazillion horses. It was a riot of colour, as every fourth woman was in finest flamenco gear in every conceivable colour and shape. All with hair adorned with flowers or other type of fascinator to match her very very tight dress. Mothers with daughters in matching outfits, grandmas promenading together, and of course the young and beautiful in their frighteningly high heels. There was good taste, bad taste, and no taste at all. Every where you looked, locals and tourists were promenading to see and be seen, holding alarmingly large glasses in their hands containing some unidentifiable drink, even on horseback.

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And the noise!!! There must have been 500 bars all playing flamenco, competing with each other to be heard and attract the crowd in to eat drink dance and be merry. It was less like a flamenco symphony and more like a wall of sound, with decibels much higher than allowed in the Geneva Convention.

W and I found a tapas bar somewhere between the sound waves, and enjoyed a bit of fino with some tapas.

After watching the passing parade for a while, the eardrums protested loudly and we escaped into the  cool and blessed silence of our room at Ibis, resolved the next day to be better prepared: buy tickets to two of the events, and to take earplugs when we go to the Feria in the evening.

The next morning we gallop off to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, to secure our tickets to a show; not sure what it is exactly, but I want to see it.

We then hoof it to the Deposito del Sementales, where there is another event the next day. By that stage it’s a warm 27 degrees, and we’re ready for a sit-down. We wander around the Deposito, which seems to be another venue for stabling horses, with several arenas for schooling horses. Back into the Feria from the night before, and everyone is gearing up for another day/night of revelry. The trucks are resupplying the alcohol and food, the garbage trucks are removing the debris, and the whole place is getting ready for another night of debauchery.

It’s like October Fest on horseback and steroids.

Our appointed time arrives and we walk back to the School for our show. Turns out it is the Spanish version of the Spanish Riding School (in Vienna!?) with Andalusians instead of Lippizaners. It’s quite spectacular – no photography allowed, and unlike in Vienna, they do manage to police it. One jammy bugger behind us wasn’t even discreet; holding up his iPad in front of his face. Well, that got a quick response. Even little ole me, who always follows the rules, was asked to put my camera on the floor, or at least pointing towards it. I complied quickly – though how I was suspected of taking pictures with my camera pointing goodness knows where, I don’t know.

Anyway, it was spell binding. One of the elements consisted of showing off individual stallions on the ground – 15 horses and handlers trooped in and each one demonstrated the extraordinary athleticism of rearing up and hopping on hind legs, or leaping into the air and kicking out in mid-air with hind and fore-legs. You could see concentration written on horse and human as they performed these manouevers.

Ole!!

The other treat for me here, was seeing storks!!! Yes, the ones that bring babies in the northern hemisphere. As I wasn’t able to photo the horses indoors, I amused myself with taking pictures of the storks outdoors. Beautiful birds, perched on nests up on chimneys, with their little chicks tucked into the shade of their parent.

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By this stage it was 36 degrees in the shade, and we legged it back to our cool sanctuary. A nap, a swim, and a rest, and then at 8 we went back to the fair. I wanted to see the lights at night..

Well what a treat.

The place was buzzing again, people spilling out everywhere, flamencas parading around – it looks like this is THE event of the year. Sitting in a safe vantage point watching the finery in my closest imitation of a  flamenca – fabulous.

At 10 when the party was just getting going for some, and just finishing for the guy who was passed out on the bench beside his glammed up girlfriend, we oldies called it quits.

The next morning, while it was cool, we checked out and drove ourselves back to the feria. A bit of pfaffing about in the blocked-off streets surrounding the park, and we lucked on a E4 parking area. We left the car and wandered around the Equitur exhibition, which is all about the horses; the local studs bring in a selection of their best horses to show off. Several arenas were set up for doing ground work, and I was interested to see a few people working with one-year-old foals, using much the same techniques as I do with Danny. A tour around the stalls, to smooch with a few of these amazing horses, temptation averted with a pair of leather riding boots remaining un-bought, and now we need to go to our next appointment.

The event was a competition for best caballo riding, set to flamenco and classical music. Outdoors at 1.00, we were blessedly in the shade of some trees. It must be a major event in Spanish sport, since there were at least a half dozen professional photographers (some standing in front of MY lens, thank you very much!!) snapping away like crazy. It seemed to be a combination of dressage and camp draft. The horses needed to do a circuit, demonstrating large and small circles, walk and trot; short gallop, slowing to slow canter; turn-on-the dime forehand turns, gallop full pelt and stop in a second, canter circle on the spot, canter sideways, flying changes. Magnifico.!!! A few of the spectators did have a clue about horsemanship, because there was rapt applause for some of the better horses on the more difficult and spectacular moves. One young competitior could complete a full stop  from gallop in less than a horse length. One of them even kissed his horse when he’d finished.

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During our short break while they hosed down the dusty arena, I was intrigued by the caballeras, riding sidesaddle on the most magnificent stallions. One particularly beautiful horse woman, in full black velvet riding dress, but still looking cool in the heat, was mounted on a white stallion whose mane was down to his hooves in length. W, the wag, wondered if he ever stepped on his own hair?!

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I was hoping that the ladies would compete after the break, but we only got more hombres. Even I can get bored whatching the same manouevers over and over by different horses, and by this stage it was 37 degrees, and we thought we should swap the open furnace for a climate controlled car, so somewhat sadly, we went on our way to Seville, where once again we needed the help of a local to find our hotel. This one didn’t want anything, but W gave him E5, and he went on his way happy. And, our luck was in; just as we pulled in in front of the hotel, someone left their unrestricted parking space and we slid in. Couldn’t have worked out better!

Seville is a cool 40 degrees, so we are horizontal in our modest accommodations, girding our loins for tomorrow.

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