by Jo Kimmins
In October I was lucky enough to witness the blessing of the horses in the town of Guadalupe in Extremadura, Spain.
Riders from all over Spain ride for five or six days to reach the small hill top town to pay homage to the Virgin of Guadalupe and have their horses blessed by the local priest.
They set off in groups or sodalities. The groups can be as small as two or three or as big as 15 to 20. As the groups near Guadalupe their numbers swell as more groups join the route from all directions. Many horses carry two or even three people with the second person sitting on a pillion pad attached to the back of the saddle and small children squashed in behind the pommel. By the afternoon of the blessing more than 1000 horses and riders gather together at the bottom of the town.
During the day the town also fills up with spectators. The hard-core fans arrive early to get the best seats in front of the Cathedral. Inside is the famous statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, believed to have been carved by Luke the Evangelist, and is one of three Black Madonnas in Spain
There is no shade in the centre of town. Temperatures are in the high 20s. People shelter under umbrellas and fans flutter as they try to keep cool. When the parade starts each group comes separately into the square led by two riders. One carries their particular banner and the other a bunch of flowers for the church. They are a complete mixture of rough country folk, refined rejoneiro types and city slickers. The one thing they have in common is their relaxed ease on a horse.
Anyone could be forgiven for momentarily falling in love with the dashing and dignified figures of men and women in their traditional riding suits, elaborate chaps and sombreros on their beautiful Andalucian horses.
In the middle of the square in front of the cathedral is a round fountain where the horses sink their muzzles and drink before being blessed by the priest. Some groups sing songs, others give speeches and then they all shout “Viva la Virgin de Guadalupe!” (Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe) and the crowd responds with an enthusiastic “Viva la Virgin!” (Long live the Virgin!)
At times it is pandemonium as horses misbehave or lads show off by making their horses rear or do the Spanish walk across the square. Emotions run high. Friends hug, laugh and even cry as they are overcome by the atmosphere and what they have achieved.
For more than two hours the horses parade past the cathedral, getting blessed by the priest and cheered by the crowd. Once they have gone through the square they ride back down through the town to the old train station where they untack and hose down the horses, and some even hose down themselves.
The horses are loaded into open lorries and trailers for a much quicker return home.
Images below © Jo Kimmins