HORSE DRAWN CARRIAGES
by Saskia Mier
Horse drawn carriages have always played an enormous role in Andalusia's great heritage. It has proved to be a very popular discipline within the equine community, almost more popular than dressage in the competition ring. More commonly, it is linked to the great tradition of pilgrimages (romerías) celebrated widely across the region; the horse drawn carriage or mule drawn carriage is a vital part of those distinctive scenes showing men striding out proudly on their horses, women dressed in colourful flamenco dresses following behind those carriages laden with food and drinks, and children with their grandparents.
One must not forget the importance of the horse drawn carriage during the summer fairs (ferias). Extreme pride is taken to have the carriages immaculately polished and well turned out, including the harnesses and drivers, who wear attire that accurately fits the style of the carriage. Even colour coordination is taken seriously, with the horses sporting coloured pom-poms in their manes and tails, and/or hanging on the front of their faces from the brow band. These pom-poms match the colours of accessories on board the carriages such as blankets, cushions and upholstery.
Although generally considered to be a romantic experience for couples, carriages can be enjoyed by everybody and they truly are a unique attraction. Across Andalusia, cities provide horse drawn carriages for visitors, allowing them to enjoy an overview and orientation of the city, especially if they are short of time. Additionally, drivers give an explanation of the monuments and sights as you pass by, as well as offering tales and amusing anecdotes.
The carriages you find in the cities are usually Landau style, which is a coach building term for a type of four-wheeled, convertible carriage. It was originally a luxury carriage as the low shell made for maximum visibility of the occupants and their clothing - a feature that means the Landau are still a popular choice for ceremonial occasions. The Landau horse drawn carriage accommodates up to six people although this can be slightly tight. It is great for four people and the ideal would be just two. If it rains or the sun's rays are incredibly strong, some of the carriages have a retractable roof. Just in case, wear a hat or a cap - especially if you are travelling with children.
Perhaps one of the first places that comes to mind when thinking about these carriages is the city of Seville. The use of horse drawn carriages started here a long time ago, when the Feria de Abril was beginning to become a tradition. At that time, important personalities and wealthy families used these carriages to travel to the fairground, either to enjoy the event or to acquire certain products. Carriage "stations" are scattered almost everywhere in the city centre, with fixed fares which are official and non-negotiable, so absolutely no risk of getting scammed.
Seville also holds an annual carriage exhibition and competition during the Feria de Abril which has been celebrated annually since 1984. The carriages taking part are those traditionally used in the fair since the nineteenth century, and many of them are museum pieces, including Breaks, Gigs, Phaetons, Stage Coaches, Landaus, Broughams and Jaunting Cars, among many others. The quality of construction, preservation, cleaning, height of the spear and accessories are scored for the carriage, as well as for the footman. The competition is carried out in two stages: the first is held on Calle Adriano where the carriages, footmen and occupants are judged while stationary; and the second is held in the Plaza de Toros (bullring) where they are all judged in motion. The exhibition begins at 10am and entrance fees start at three euros.
Ronda is another well-known city that offers horse drawn carriage attractions for visitors. With one carriage "station" located in front of the Plaza de Toros (bullring), the carriages will take you round the old part of the town, passing various interesting sites.
Ronda also holds an exhibition and competition of carriages very similar to that of Seville, being organised by the same association, Real Club de Enganches de Andalucía. It is held during the Feria de Pedro Romero in early September, usually on the Sunday. The exhibition takes place in the morning and the main bullfight of the season (Corrida Goyesca) is held in the afternoon. The carriages are judged lined up on Calle Virgen de la Paz before filing into the bullring. The entrance fee is three euros. This really is a special moment when over 50 carriages glide effortlessly around the historic architectural wonder that is this eighteenth century bullring.