A Taste of Portugal by Bianca McCarty
Every year in November, the week of Saint Martin's Day, the enchanted intimate village of Golegã transforms into a dynamic buzzing hub of festivities dedicated to the Lusitano horse, the pure blooded Portuguese horse breed. This was my second visit during the 10-day festival called "Feira Nacional do Cavalo" and there could not be a better time to launch my collaboration with the Lusitano World Blog than during the celebration of São Martinho. The Feira is held annually since the 18th century, and here Lusitano breeders and horse lovers gather to strut their stuff at the often called "Capital of the Horse”. Golegã earns this title not only because many of the most famous and prestigious stud farms are located near by, but also because horsemen come from all over the country to present their valuable stallions.
Highlights on Golega Horse Fair
One the most spectacular sights is watching the agile, baroque horses carry their riders in ornate handmade tack, often embellished with golden or silver buckles. Lusitano horses are known and respected for their agility, athletic ability and courage to move towards dangerous obstacles. And their noble temper truly shows when horsemen and women ride shoulder to shoulder around the Manga and the narrow streets, with prancing stallions and carriages bolting through the masses of spectators honking their horns. Between all the excitement happening in the streets, I like to attend some of the competitions being held during the fair. Here you can get a good look at the most beautiful and successful horses and riders the country has to offer.
One of my favorite events is the Working Equitation Competitions, because it showcases the animal’s intelligence, sensitivity and the strong bond to their riders as they move gracefully around and over obstacles, but I also enjoy watching to admire the horse’s abundance of mane, thick tails, powerful and compact conformation with strong haunches and natural high stepping gaits. I think the highlight of the Working Equitation Competitions for everyone was witnessing Gilberto Filipe Silva taking home two trophies, one with his Lusitano Stallion Assuão in the Debutant Category, as well as the Masters level with his stallion Zinque das Lezirias, who I like to call “Heart Horse”, because of his unique markings.
Night time at Golegã
Like every year, highlights of staying in the heart of Golegã during the fair, include waking up to the sounds of cantering hooves on cobblestone streets, observing elegant horses and riders during competitions and evening performances. This year during one of the nightly shows we were lucky to witness the living legend Rubi AR, Portugal’s number one Grand Prix horse, who took his rider Goncalo Carvalho to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. During this presentation his owner, Christine Jacoberger, who retired him two years ago, rode him beautifully in side saddle and traditional Portuguese attire, while being escorted by riders of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, where Rubi AR started his career when he was four years old. Jacoberger’s decision to present him in side saddle, shows that a top level dressage horse can also perform under the big lights with unusual conditions.
As night falls, the horsemen dressed in traditional Portuguese costumes pack the narrow streets and alleyways and socialize at horse bars and in court yards, which are transformed into temporary discotheques. The cobblestone streets are filled with riders, carriages, and spectators, and wherever you wander, you hear the sound of prancing hooves on cobblestone, while the air is filled with smoke from roasted chestnuts, giving the gloomy alley ways a mysterious impression. Unfortunately, Saturday night’s evening performance was canceled due to rain, but if you didn’t mind the weather and stayed around the Manga, perhaps you got a private show of Manuel Borba Vega riding his stallion, Varão, bridle less and throwing pirouettes left and right in the rain.
Once you have visited Golegã during the Feira Nacional Do Cavalo, you will realize it is challenging to put the experience into words. It is by far a must see, feel, smell, taste and hear event, that will give you the ultimate taste of Portugal in just a few days. This is the place where the most magnificent horses and talented riders mingle all in one place from stud farms hundreds of years old. Here you can meet exquisite breeders, craftsmen, and artists, while enjoying authentic foods and drinks during night long conversations about what we all love most — horses.