Horse Festivals of Celtic Iberia

Sep 5, 2013 by


In Galicia, in northwestern Spain, one of the most popular festivals is known as La Rapa das Bestas, or the Cropping of the Beasts, held each summer in different towns throughout Galicia. Wild or semi-wild horses living in the mountains of Galicia are brought to the local town, where a hardy group of men and a few women, using nothing but bare hands and muscle, no ropes or halters, grapple with selected horses to to trim their manes and tails and insert microchips.
The tradition of wrestling the horses in order to trim their manes and tails goes back, say Galicians, to Celts who settled the Iberian Peninsula by the seventh century B.C. Though the Romans eventually vanquished the Celts, their heritage has persisted in northwestern Spain, aided by later migrations from other parts of the Celtic realm.
After the horse wrangling concludes, some of the horses are sold and the rest are returned to the wild, not unlike the famous Chincoteague roundup in the US. There is usually a large feast in the evening, celebrating the Galician’s connections to their Celtic ancestors and to the hardy ponies native to Galicia.
Some people may see the festival as too harsh for the horses, but in fact, the Galician pony is a protected breed, carefully monitored by the government to ensure the wild horses are healthy and in no danger. Any injuries suffered during the festival are almost exclusively to the humans involved, who often come away with numerous cuts and bruises in their efforts to control the horses. I’m a long-time horse owner and would love to see this festival myself because it not only preserves the health and longevity of the native ponies without harsh culling or slaughter, but it also honors the Celtic heritage of both the animals and the people of Galicia.

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