Camargue: The region of France is almost like the cartoon “The Last Unicorn.”
Peter Beagle’s novel “The Last Unicorn” and the 1982 Japanese cartoon of the same name are exactly what Camargue conjures up for me: a swampy area in the south of France.
Here, in the Rhone River delta, the places are indeed fairy-tale-like. Enchanted, if not enchanted. Reed marshes and salt marshes, where pink flamingos and other rare birds arrive.
This area of France is associated with the fairy tale “The Last Unicorn” for the following reasons. If you remember, its main character is the last unicorn, which people often mistook for a graceful horse, and the Camargue is famous for being home to herds of light gray horses, which under the bright sunlight appear completely snow-white.
In the tale, the last unicorn tried to save her congeners from the terrible red bull, which at the behest of the evil King Haggard drove the unicorns into the coastal sea waves. And here’s another coincidence for you! In Camargue, next door to the beautiful blond horses are the mighty, short-legged Camargue bulls, frankly, frightening-looking.
What’s more, one of the Camargue’s favorite pastimes is racing in the surf of the sea. And when you watch the light gray horses rushing through the foamy waves, it seems that the shrilly sad cartoon came to life: in the final shots, the unicorns exactly rushed from the abyss of the sea to meet freedom.
The Amazing Horses Run in Camargue
Still from “The Last Unicorn”.
In short, if Hollywood were to adapt the novel by Peter Beagle, the Camargue cameramen could do with some location shots alone: the frightening-looking bulls are more than a match for the main beast of the tale, and the proud horses do not need to play the part of the unicorn.
By the way, the last statement is not a stretch. The second name of the Kamarga breed is “sea-horse” and people have never specially bred these animals. The Camargue is an indigenous breed. Presumably, the blond racehorse that loves to ride in the surf is a direct descendant of the prehistoric solutre horse, which inhabited Western Europe back in the Paleolithic era. By the way, it is believed that its image can be seen in the cave Lascaux, located in Dordogne, the walls of which are decorated with rock paintings created about 15-18 thousand years.
Like all gray horses, Camargue’s foals are born raven or red. They begin to lighten at the age of 4-5 years old and look almost snow-white in the sunlight as adults. At the same time they are still considered semi-wild animals, because although at the age of one year most foals are branded, horses live practically in the wild.
Yes, they all have an owner and the pastures are fenced, but they are almost never locked up in the stables. Like their wild relatives, Camargue horses sleep directly in the fields, eat pasture forage and breed without human assistance.
Only the stallions work. At the age of three years, the largest and most active of the young of the herd are selected and then they are trained to pen the Camargue fighting bulls. These formidable animals are another symbol of the region. Like horses, they lead a semi-wild way of life: they are free-range, breeding and reproducing according to the laws of nature rather than human dictates.
The Camargue bull is a fearsome animal, though it has a relatively lean build and is not too tall. But the horns make up for it. They are formidable and lyre-shaped. In short, few animal lovers dare to approach such a monster.
Not without reason, in France, these powerful animals are mainly used for traditional bullfighting. An important point! During the French bullfighting no one is killed! The matadors do not take part in the bullfight, and the main task of the bullfighters is to remove the tape or tassels, which are decorated with the horns of the animal, and then the winning or losing bull is sent back into the wild.
The Camargue stallions are the only ones able to drive the fighting bulls, so this is the only breed of horses, on which the Gardians, the cowboys of Provence, ride. Another of their indispensable attributes – long slingshots, which outwardly resemble the trident of Poseidon. With their help gardenians can control the furious bulls, keeping them at a safe distance.
Incidentally, there is an old legend about the gardian’s tools, which also explains why such a large number of pale horses and black bulls appeared on the coast of Camargue.
According to the ancient belief, in ancient times these ugly animals with lyre-like horns were the true masters of the place. They actively terrorized people who, in order to avoid their imminent death, had to hide from the bulls in the waves of the surf: again, a direct reference to the “Last Unicorn”, is not it?
However, according to a Camargian legend, one day it was not a unicorn that came to the aid of the people, but Poseidon, the god of the sea. He gave people one of his horses, which he ruled while traveling on the seas and oceans. To everyone’s surprise, the magical light gray sea horse was not afraid of bulls, easily chased them and could drive away the terrible beasts at a considerable distance.
But when people tried to ride the horses and control the bulls, it turned out that a human being was totally unprotected from the strikes of their horns. Here again Poseidon came to the rescue. More precisely, the experience of communicating with him. The inhabitants of Kamarga remembered the god’s trident and built themselves similar tools. With their help it became easier to control the bulls.
WHERE TO SEE HORSES AND BULLS IN CAMARGA?
1. Amazing light grey horses can be seen in Camargue itself and around the town of Sainte-Marie-de-la-Mer, they love to race in the coastal waves. They also regularly roam the streets of Arles and Nîmes.
2. If you want to ride Camargue horses, and at the same time see the strange bulls, go to the National Park of Camargue. The price of horseback riding starts from 20-25 euros. By the way, in addition to horses and bulls there live flamingos.
Those who want to watch the fighting of the Camargue bulls, should know that they are held in the Roman arenas of Arles and Nimes. They usually take place before Easter. Once again, a reminder! During the bullfighting in France the animals are not killed, the task of the bullfighters is only to remove the decoration from the horns of the bull.