Festivals in Andalucía – The Jerez Horse Fair in May
What is the Horse Fair in Jerez?
The Feria del Caballo dates from over 500 years ago, during the reign of Alfonso X el Sabio – “the Wise” when Jerez de la Frontera was just a small, rural town. Gradually over the next 200 years, the farmers market developed into a meeting place for livestock breeders and farmers. Local wine producers saw the potential for marketing their wines, setting up stalls for this purpose. Other attractions followed until the fair became what it is today.
When is the Jerez Horse Fair?
Taking place in the first two weeks of May each year, after the Feria de Sevilla and before the Romería del Rocío, the fair makes the most of the wonderful spring weather. The main attraction is the Caballo Cartujano – “Carthusian Andalusian”, considered the purest strain of the Caballo Andaluz, with one of the oldest registered pedigrees in the world. The Carthusian monks started breeding these powerful, weight bearing animals in XV Century. However, Jerez is also famous for its wines and flamenco. The Horse Fair unites all three in a week of pure joy, colour, music, celebrations and equestrian events.
Where is the Fería?
Held in the Gonzalez Hontoria Park, a huge space of 52.000 square metres. Lined with the traditional “Casetas” or marquees in all shapes, colours, sizes and designs, housing bars and restaurants set up for the occasion. Run by all kinds of organisations such as the town council, unions, bars, restaurants, businesses, flamenco groups and Holy Week Brotherhoods, these casetas open to everyone from midday through to the wee small hours of the next day.
What do they serve in the casetas?
Obviously, Jerez/Sherry in all its forms is at the top of the list. Try a “Rebujito” Manzanilla and Fino mixed with 7Up, a long refreshing drink, just right in the usually warm to hot temperatures. Food is varied with typical, local dishes being the most popular.
Daytime or Nighttime?
In the daytime the fería is quite different to the evening but nonetheless worth going to. We did both, especially keen to see the million plus lights being turned on at sunset, an experience in itself. The cooler evening temperatures bring families to the fair, the adjacent funfair filling up fast with all its brash lights and scary rides.
If you enjoy people watching just find a table in one of the casetas and sit sipping a rebujito with a tapa while the colourful parade unfolds before you. The most striking are the women in their “batas de cola”- flamenco dresses, such wonderful designs and materials. The best day for seeing them out en masse is midday on the Wednesday as it’s Women’s Day at the fair, so a special effort is made. They say that visitors to the fair should add a touch of local colour to their outfits, even if it’s just a bright neck scarf for the gentleman or a flower in the hair for the ladies!
Of course, one goes to see the magnificent horses. We particularly enjoyed watching the horse drawn carriages on the their daily promenade through the feria.
Each day between 13.00 and 19.30, all types of carriages parade around the fair ground showing off the beautifully groomed horses, as well as the shining carriages or “enganches” with the elegantly dressed coachmen and their passengers, often sporting their flamenco dresses. Anyone can ride in style, offers are a plenty.
We went to two other equestrian events during our 3 day stay in Jerez. On the Sunday, we enjoyed the lively Acoso y Derribo – rounding up of the small bulls by cowboys on horseback. A truly skilled and elegant spectacle held in the Cortijo de Vicos just outside Jerez.
On the Wednesday we went to the Deposito de Sementales or Military Stud Farm just over the road from the Fairground. Here we saw the Doma Vaquera Competition – the traditional disciplining of the working horses. An ideal opportunity to see rider and horse working in complete unison.
Unfortunately we couldn’t stay to watch the carriage competition at the end of the week. Another time perhaps.
Things to do in Jerez
Jerez is not just Feria, there’s plenty of time for other things on a short visit. We went to the excellent carriage museum to see the different styles of carriages close to. The visit takes you to the stables where they were grooming the horses for various events. The museum is very near the Royal Andaluz School of Equestrian Art, if you have time do go to see the “horses dancing”. It’s amazing.
What about the Sherry?
I hadn’t forgotten! We visited the Gonzalez Byass winery, the home of Tio Pepe, in the city itself. A fascinating tour with wine tasting and tapas included. In the photo, the original casks for the very first Tio Pepe Sherry. The bodega is in the old town centre, very near the cathedral. an area you won’t want to miss. Full of lovely churches and old mansions, it’s a joy just to wander round the narrow streets. Below, the Alameda Vieja Park next to the Alcazar with the Cathedral in the background.
We even found time to go to the Botanical Zoo, a small but shady botanical garden and zoo combined. An interesting collection of animals and birds set among beautiful old trees and shrubs.
How to get to Jerez for the Horse Fair
If you would like to plan a visit to next year’s Feria del Caballo, bear in mind that you should book well in advance. Hotel rooms can be triple the normal rates for this event and still sell out. However, they don’t tend to take bookings before September of the previous year.
Jerez de la Frontera has its own airport and good train connections, Seville is about 90kms away. Cadiz is just 40 kms. south of Jerez and well worth a visit too. More about that in another post.
For more information on Jerez visit http://www.turismojerez.com/index.php/es
Photos and post by Susan at Casa Tagomago