It was a rich experience for the senses filled with pungent barn smells, shrill stallion calls, combined with the beauty of Adobe Guadalupe Winery hosting the June Festival del Caballo, the Festival of the Horse. I made my way into the dark interior of the stable hearing the soft snuffling noises of horses digging their muzzles deeply into the fragrant hay. In each stall was an example of beauty in horse form and I knew instantly that I was in for a rare treat.
Near the end of the stable, this was also a staging area. I was taken by the absolute comeliness of the costumed dancers waiting to perform. The lovely young women dressed in traditional costumes stood with their very handsome partners in fringed jackets and cowboy hats. Later I would be dazzled by their dance, full of energy, fun and astounding footwork. I couldn’t decide what to do first. Everything was tantalizing from the white tents filled with silver spurs and hand tooled boots to cheeses from the region and wine tasting. All the while there was the movement of the horses with their riders sitting very easy in the saddle.
I have lived my life loving horses and to be surrounded by the power and the beauty of these animals was a thrill. In the paddock area, it was impossible to pick out one that was more beautiful than another, but soon I found I was captivated by the majestic presence of the Friesian. He towered over me at least 17 hands tall. The Friesian is known for its thick long mane and the tail that touches the ground. His powerful muscles rippled beneath the jet black coat. I reached out and touched him. I swear his huge brown eyes were looking into me. Thomas Ochoa stood holding the reigns gently; he was quick to talk with me about a few details of the breed. When he saw how touched I was by the experience he smiled kindly and said "We love too much the horses."
Baja California’s Guadalupe Valley is known as wine country. It is also horse country and carries the passion of Mexico for its dancing horse. Surprisingly, there are many Friesians represented in Baja. The breed comes originally from Friesland, Netherlands. In the Middle Ages their ancestors were used as war horses because they were nimble for their size. After nearly becoming extinct, they are now wildly popular in the field of dressage in Baja California, Mexico and around the world. Thomas and I became instant friends when talking about how the dancing horse is trained. They begin at three years old because the young colt is "like a baby" in behavior and needs maturity to settle into the year of training which is required for an accomplished dressage performer, agile and elegant. Some fault the training as it appears to require the animal to maintain a perfect control of tension over its powerful movements, creating an electrifying balance of precision. I watched those working with their horses in the paddocks. I tend to believe Thomas Ochoa’s opinion, that they love their horses too much to do them harm. To me it appears to be a perfect union of horse and rider as if an extension of one another.
In the main arena, the barrel races were beginning, pulling me away from the paddock. Women riders from Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada rode their steeds flat out as they made their turns around the 50-gallon drums. With their hats flying off, whip flicking to urge their mount into full gallop, they crossed the finish line in a breathtaking performance. I wondered at the amazing life that these women of Baja lead. They were self-assured; they trusted their skills of horsemanship and were truly fearless. The youngest rider was a little one of six years old. She rode an all white gelding sporting a bright pink handprint on his rump with pink streaks in mane and tail. Pink booties adorned the pony’s flying feet. She stole the show.
The women also showed their skills at riding sidesaddle and dressed in the tradition of Spanish Charros with sweeping sombreros and long dresses of layered frills. Near the end of the day the arena began to fill with nearly 20 of the finest looking horses a horse lover would ever want to see. The afternoon sunlight struck their coats creating sheens of copper, gold and silver white. Each horse was led to the main staging area to do a promenade and fancy footwork for the admiring audience’s applause.
At one of the breaks, I preceded to the food tents. What a delicious array to choose from. I tried the Marlin tostada and shrimp tacos; delicious. I sank into a chair with plate in hand to watch the stage below fill with fancy ropers showing off a skill passed down to them from father to son for generations. As the sun lowered and filtered through the oak trees, I relished my first bite of tender shrimp, paired with music and a glass of red from the region. My thought, for a horse lover, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Information for future events, contact "Elisa Arredondo Morales" horsewoman_elisa(at)hotmail.com.
Visit the Festival del Caballo's website