I had the most amazing and colourful experience recently at the Feria de Jerez, also known as Feria del Caballo (Horse Fair) in Spain. This is one of the most important celebrations in Jerez de la Frontera, only comparable to Easter religious celebrations.
Its origin is in the medieval ages where, during one week, farmers gathered to sell and buy beautiful animals, in Jerez mainly beautiful horses, usually drinking to celebrate the deals.
Nowadays it is celebrated in the González Hontoria Park in Jerez covering 52,000 square metres.
The Feria is divided in two parts: one is a kind of small village, with streets that have bars and restaurants at both sides (these restaurants are called Casetas). The other is a Theme Park and carnival style area where kids and grownups can have fun on different rides such as roller coasters, bumper cars etc…
At the Feria de Jerez all the casetas are public, so anyone can just walk into any one and enjoy the food, drinks, and dancing.
Combining good food, wine and horses is the recipe for the Spanish Horse Feria in Jerez. In the evening there is a sort of “roof” of pretty decorative lights lighting this little “village” like area, which allows the party to last all the way till dawn.
This site is also host to major events – superb displays of horsemanship in all its forms obviously taking centre stage. Here you will witness doma vaquero and doma classica cowboy and classical dressage, riding competitions, polo and fabulous displays of carriage driving.
The streets of Jerez are taken over during the festival by parades of horses, both official and completely unofficial. You’ll be bewitched by horses strolling elegantly along the streets ridden by immaculately clad aristocratic-looking men, with beautifully dressed women behind them, in full flamenco style, managing to look poised and sophisticated sitting on a horse’s rump. At the same time, there will be English, Hungarian, Russian and Spanish-style carriages, all exquisitely decorated, parading effortlessly through the cobbled streets of the old centre of town. Jerez Horse Festival offers Andalusian Chic at its most beguiling.
Then, at night, the colours and flavours change as the guitar rhythms accelerate and the wine flows more freely, horses’ hoofs are replaced by stomping flamencos and the parties last well into the early hours.
A visit to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art is another thing not to be missed and the Show is at 12 noon most days throughout the Feria. It’s also possible to tour the stables and the museums, where there are displays of carriages, tack and harnesses, blacksmithing and equestrian art – all in the beautiful setting of the historic nineteenth century Palacio de las Cadenas, with its delightfully cool gardens.
Just to lend even more appeal to the visit, the School is right next door to the Sandeman Bodega which offers a really good sherry tasting tour!
One of the most aesthetically-pleasing aspects of attending the Horse Fair is seeing the locals and Spaniards from nearby towns dressed in traditional costumes. Women wear the stunning flamenco dresses known as trajes de gitanas (gypsy dresses) and the men wear short-cropped riding jackets and flat, broad-rimmed hats.
Jerez’s Horse Feria is one of the most colourful celebrations in all of Spain. With the pristine white of the horses, the brightly coloured flamenco dressed ladies, lush palm trees towering over the bright yellow sand and the deep, clear blue of an Andalusian sky.
Jerez Horse Feria takes place the first or second week of May every year. I forgot to mention it is free to get in but if you want to watch the competitions and dressage displays, there is a small fee of 6 euros.
To get there I suggest staying in Seville and taking a day trip to Jerez by train. Trains are very affordable at 11 euros pp approx. and they travel regularly between the two cities. Take a taxi on arrival to visit the Riding school first prior to 12 noon and the Feria afterwards which does not kick off until about 2 pm.
Dates for 2020
26 April – 2 May 2020 Sevilla Fair
9-16 May 2020 Jerez Horse Fair