From Across The Pond - Golega Horse Fair

by Donna Taylor, Puylaurens, France

Carrying on from my last article, when Colin and I went to Spain and Portugal for a two week holiday in November last year.  After driving into Spain and stopping off in Bilbao for a few days, we then headed to Porto in Portugal. We then left Porto and finally reached the horse fair that I have wanted to visit for many years. It was certainly the highlight of my holiday.
The horse fair is situated in the relatively small town of Golega, approximately an hour north by car of the capital city of Lisbon in Portugal. This fair is steeped in history as it dates back to the 16th century. It’s former name was the St Martins Fair, but now it incorporates the National Horse Fair as well as the International Lusitano Horse Fair. It is always held in November and is a ten day exhibition of some of the finest Lusitano horses in the country and probably in the world.
The Lusitano is a Portuguese horse breed, closely related to the Spanish Andalusian horse. The ancestors of the Lusitano were originally used for classical dressage, driving and bullfighting on horseback. 
Golega is known as the Portuguese Capital of the Horse. It benefits from wide-ranging horse-related business activities, from trade, training, sports and culture to leisure, numerous private stud farms, equestrian centres, equipment and services to horses. 
During the fair, there are a lot of competitions that take place including dressage, show jumping, team cross, horse driving, etc. There are also book presentations and painting exhibitions. 
Golega is dedicated to equines. Nearly every street, sign and business in the town has a reference to the horse. There are horse and rider statues dotted around the streets, there are many stables at the back of peoples’ homes. Even the rubbish bins (garbage bins) are designed as a horse shoe with a big net to put the rubbish in. 
When you go into the bars and restaurants you will see photos and paintings of beautiful Lusitano horses. There are jewelery shops, clothes and shoe shops all selling merchandise for the riders. There are many saddlery shops and horse carriage showrooms. Even the police are on horseback. 
In the middle of the town, there is an outer arena known as the manga where people parade on horseback in traditional Portuguese costume and then there is an inner arena where there are competitions, displays and performances. 
As we were only visiting the fair for three days, I had looked at the program in advance and picked the days I was most interested in. I would have loved to have spent a week there, but three days was enough for a very patient husband who likes equines, but would not like to look at them all day and all evening for that length of time!
I wanted to see some dressage and also showing in hand and carriage driving, but most of all, I wanted to see the Blessing of the Saint Martin’s Pilgrims. The parade starts at midday and there are riders and carriage drivers that ride a couple of kilometres through the town to the church. At 13:00 all the equines and their owners and spectators stand outside the church and a Blessing is carried out. It was an incredible sight to see all these beautiful horses and their elegant riders in their traditional costumes standing quietly whilst the priest gave the blessing. 
Throughout those ten days, there are horses being ridden from early morning until very late at night. Even when we were leaving each evening at around 23:00, there were many riders on their horses outside the bars or parading around the outside arena. 
There are no mares allowed at the fair in November. They have their own national fair in Golega every year in June. So the majority of Lusitano horses were stallions. Geldings can participate as well, but they were definitely outnumbered by the stallions. 
Some of the horses at the fair were for sale, others were stud horses, some were competing and some were there just to show off. I loved seeing the riders and carriage drivers in their Portuguese costumes. The ladies looked so elegant and the men so handsome. The Lusitano horses were powerful, bold, so well behaved and so very handsome too. 
On our final evening, Colin and I were sitting outside a bar having a drink and a snack. I was enjoying soaking up the atmosphere and watching the riders come past the bar. A carriage approached us and I had to take a second look as there were two mules coming towards me. Colin wondered what on earth I was getting so excited about, then he saw the mules. I really didn’t expect to see any mules, so this was a complete surprise.
I couldn’t get out of my chair quick enough to take some photos. I told Colin to sit tight and I’d come back in due course. I was so excited to see these two beautiful black mules, both around 14.2hh. I followed the carriage as it went towards the outer arena. 
I was wearing my Mules and More cap and my Carolina Mule Association T-shirt, so I was trying to show the driver that I too loved mules. I’m not quite sure he really understood me, but he gave me a smile as he drove past. 

I watched him for a little while whilst he drove the mules around the outer arena, then I headed back to the bar. What a perfect end to a perfect holiday. I was so happy to see these mules. The Golega National Horse Fair is such an incredible event to visit and one that I would recommend to anyone who has a love of equines.