“The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears.”
The Menorcan Horse is groomed and pampered like the equine rock star it is. In the stable the blacksmith treats the hooves like precious objects, where even the removal of the shoe is done with respect and a certain reverance. These glorious big black beauties have a key part in Menorca culture, being the main attraction in the annual fiestas held throughout the summer. They also played a vital role in the island’s history. As early as the 14th century, horses were used to defend this strategic speck in the Mediterranean and the Cami de Cavalls (bridlepaths and small roads) can still be found all around the island. The Menorquin Horse or Cavall MenorquÃn was only officially recognised as an indigenous breed in 1989 and is described as “noble, hot-blooded, rustic, resilient and energetic.” by its fans and is very popular with all ages for riding and showing.
During a family holiday my son and I visited Son Martorellet Ranch to have a look round the stables before we went to the evening show. Gazing out from ochre yellow stalls were about 20 of these majestic animals, waiting to be exercised or fed. Some had a friendly, welcoming look in their dark eyes; others flicked their ears back in a diva-ish warning to keep away. I chose one of the friendlier ones to pat – always pays to respect these beasts!
That evening my brother took Alex and me to see the Son Martorellet Dressage Show – what an extravaganza it was. Red-coated riders criss-crossed around the ring with grace and skill. Individual dressage experts took them through their paces including the famous jump or ‘bot’ where the horse rears up in its hind legs. I was assured that they are trained without injury or discomfort – I do hope so. It’s certainly an impressive sight …
At the Menorca Fiestas, which are held all over the isand from June to late summer, the horses strut their way through the crowds, with little appearance of concern to Health and Safety issues.
In a city square or on a beach the crowds surge forward to get a glimpse of superb horsemanship by the ‘Caixers’ (riders) and their majestic mounts. Young men dare each other to place a brave hand on the metal heart on the breastbone of a rearing stallion. Yes, it’s dangerous; every year people are injured and occasioally someone is killed, but like bull-running in Pamplona, it’s also a brilliant, adrenalin-fuelled spectacle and one the Spaniards don’t want to stop.
The grand finale of the Son Martorellet show was a breathtaking display of complicated prancing and dressage to some very rousing music and OTT light-effects. Then we were invited to meet the stars of the show. There was a very ‘fine lady on a white horse’ who attracted all the little girls (and a few of their dads!) and the horses were very patient with all the attention. I thought back to the scenes in the stableyard earlier and the pampering that is given to these lovely animals. The Menorcan horse is a rightly revered as a proud emblem of this island people.
If you visit the island, look out for a little booklet called ‘Menorca – The Horse Culture’ which is produced in conjunction with ‘The Association of Menorca Horse Breeders’.