You may or may not have noticed a slight whiff of the stables hanging around this column in recent months, but I promise you, even if you haven't the slightest interest in horses, you'll love this one! Equisud at Le Parc Expo in Montpellier starts on Saturday 8th and runs until Tuesday 11th November, and is the largest horse show in France in terms of actual live horses present.
Entrance is 11 euros for adults and there are reductions for groups such as riders and kids - parking is free. But even the full price is a bargain considering how much there is to see. We went last year and were spell-bound all day.
Every kind of riding culture is represented; American and Camargue cowboys dominated though. There was line dancing, cattle roping, and steer-cutting, there were jingly spurs, pointy boots, cowboy hats and gaily coloured shirts galore. You could even buy horse rugs emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes. As for age, there was a little 4 year-old barrel-racing on an obstinate Sheltie and tons of Grannies and Grandpas mounted on everything from Arabs to clumsy cart horses.
The Course Camarguaise gang had erected their own bull running arena and all day long the place echoed to the sound of the farriery competition. Ice cream sellers jangled, Country music blared, dogs barked, kids screamed. In between all that, a thousand Charlottes were hooting with laughter whilst their mounts (mostly called Brandy, Pepsi or Bambi) shivered and snickered between themselves.
In one tent there was a dressage competition, in another there was horse ball, and in yet another an equine cabaret. All around the ring were restaurants and bars, where you could sit and watch the acts. These varied amazingly from an exotic eastern dancer doing adagio with her jet black Arab right through to a bad-tempered boy who couldn't get his horse to do anything at all.
There were also saloon girls dressed in tassels and not much else, Spanish horses behaving beautifully, whole herds of horses walking on their back legs and teams of little kids bouncing around on their ponies' backs in fancy dress. Even James Bond made an appearance at one point.
I wasn't sorry we decided not to eat in the tent. Prices weren't that high, but they weren'y that cheap either and service was as slow as you would expect from a series of camp kitchens under the seating scaffold. Anyway it was fun leaning up at the bar with the John Wayne types. I was almost tempted to send my shot glass sliding up the bar for a refill. Except that I was drinking white wine and the barman was French so probably wouldn't have understood "Set 'em up, Joe!"
We watched a jumping competition, and also gave a look in at the test where there were horses for sale. We strolled past the carousel, turned down a pony-ride, but had a go at roping a stuffed steer and I fell over my handbag. Then we nearly got run over by a horse and cart. It was great.
In the evening we went to the show and to be honest, I think it was expensive for what it was... a series of dare-Devil circus acts on horseback. But having been to see Zingaro in Avignon, perhaps we're spoilt and don't know how to have fun. Whatever. But if you don't have cash to splash, don't bother with the show because it won't add that much to the day.
This year there are some new added attractions. A donkey village, which sounds adorable, and a chevalerie competition which I imagine means Medieval games along the jousting lines. There will of course also be horse whispering and horse working "en liberté" - like last year.
In fact, whatever you can think of connected to the horsy world, however weird, however tenuous the connection, it'll be there. If it is connected in any way with equids, it'll be there. Horse dentist, horse ear-rings, pink fluffy hobby horse... if horses seduced you long ago, you'll be in your element, if you've only just arrived in France this is the place to make friends, and if you've never understood the attraction, it is time to find out...
My tips for the top are to go early so as to make the most of the day. Secondly, unless your tolerance for junk food is exceptionally high and your pockets are as deep as a Texan oil well, take a large picnic. Entrance tickets allow multiple re-entry, so the car park at lunchtime is full of families sitting round camp tables tucking into a feast from home. Thirdly, take a camera because you'll be desperate to get pictures and finally, if you take the dog, make sure you take a picnic for him too.
Some of my pix from last year :
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