Extreme Horse Grooming – Rapa Das Bestas: Another Addition to “Odd Spanish Festivals” | Catavino
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Extreme Horse Grooming – Rapa Das Bestas: Another Addition to “Odd Spanish Festivals”

Rapa das BestasWhat makes for a good festival? For me, I’m a sucker for the oddities in life. I love to be surprised, to experience nothing for which I’ve experienced in my past. Part of this novelty includes savoring local cuisine, walking among the crowds of people and hearing traditional music, ogling regional crafts, and above all else, imbibing the local brew. I want all six senses to be flooded with culture and history when I’m at a festival. And if I’m lucky, I’ll walk away with a memory so rich and layered that the experience can be retold a hundred times over as if it happened yesterday. Fortunately, Iberia is a hotbed for such experiences!

Today, I stumbled across Rapa das Bestas, a festival I would give my left arm to attend. Set in the beautiful northwest Spanish region of Galicia, on weekends from June to August, Galicians celebrate a tradition they have been participating in since the Bronze age: the taming of the beasts (bestas).

Seasoned travelers, stockbreeders and your average rugged Spanish cowboy are typically the only ones to have experienced wild horses galloping across the Galician sierra, while we’re satiated with Life Magazine photos. But for the curious, and rather adventurous among us, there is an opportunity for us to see hundreds of wild horses up close and personal.

Previous to the first night’s event, owners divide all the horses into groups that have been collected from the surrounding sierra. Then, expert stockbreeders, called agarradores, climb into a curro (traditional corral) filled with dozens of horses, intent to subdue the animal using poles and ropes until they can both rapa (groom) the animal and brand it with spray paint. Allow me to repeat, they climb into a jam packed corral filled with animals that weigh approximately 1000 lbs each with nothing other than a pair of scissors, a rope and a glorified stick! Tell me these props don’t beg for the MacGyver theme song!

Many of the curros are tucked away into the north and central mountains of Galicia, near to the la Coruña and Pontevedra coasts. However, in recent years, Pontevedra has taken on the majority of the celebrations, as the poor horses rounded up near Ourense have become a tasty feast for local wolves.

The most popular celebration, and one that is easiest to get information on, is in San Lorenzo de Sabucedo in A Estrada, Galicia. This particular event has gained international notoriety, not only due to its ancient stone curro, but also because the men, called Aliotars, gang up against a horse using nothing other than a pair of scissors. It begins with the first Aliotar sliding himself into place among a tightly packed group of horses. When the time arises, he jumps onto the first horse, gets onto his feet, propels himself across the gigantic backs of several other horses, teetering on unsteady legs, before he dives head first onto his chosen horse. Once mounted, another teammate runs to the tail of the horse, where he starts pulling it with such force that the body destabilizes, while another Aliotar grabs the horse’s neck with the aid of the mounted Aliotar, who has now repositioned himself to help his teammates force the horse to the ground. Once the horse is pinned, its mane and tail is trimmed and hindquarter is branded.

When trying to describe this event to a friend in Chicago, the best comparison I could come up with was if Vidal Sassoon donned a WWF leotard and competed in a rodeo. Maybe not the best analogy, but the image is priceless. Fortunately, if you’re not necessarily in the cowboy spirit, you can ditch this part of the event, and enjoy the various horse shows, Galician cuisine featuring cauldrons of traditional soup and the ample venues dedicated to folk music. (Flickr photos by jpereira_net)


Gabriella Opaz

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  • Gabriella asked me if I'd ever been to this festival before writing the article. I had never even heard about it, but after reading this and a web site dedicated to the event, I'd don't think I'd ever want to see it and urge PETA to look into it.This is another sad, outdated excuse, much like bullfighting, for man to try to show his dominance over animals that when not caged and outnumbered could take out a human being in a matter of seconds.And I ask myself, who other than a man from the stone age would derive pleasure from physically overpowering a horse, pulling at it's mane and tail, dragging it to the ground and sheering it? Really, who is the beast in this situation?And what makes me even more mad is that I'm sure that in this act of macho bravado both horses and people are injured.Let's face it, some traditions are just archaic and inane. For the sake of cultural evolution, this tradition should go extinct.

  • Justine while I understand your concern, I have to say this is not that evil. More over while there are horses involved in this, and they happen to be beautiful mammals, the festival of throwing ants on your neighbors has not riled anyone up about “ant cruelty” or “ant farm rights”. How is roping cattle or breaking a horse to make it “ride-able” any worse? Yet those aren't(probably spoke too soon) protested over. They are pretty damn similar and probably linked to this tradition in some odd way.Yes many traditions are archaic and inane, look at collecting eggs from a bunny, or dressing like a witch to beg for candy, while not harmful to animals(let's ask the bunny's ego), they do have their own issues. Should they end? Nah…their not killing anyone/thing, other than some chicken embryos!In the end, no horses are harmed any more than if they were on a farm and forced to pull a plow and burden loads. Is it dumb to you, even me, yes. Is it really something to get upset about? I think not, there are bigger issues that should be dealt with first I think.Oh and I have to say with all due respect PETA is the last group to be involved! This group actually is trying to get us to change the name of fish(yes the kind that swim) to “sea kittens” so that more people will not want to eat them? These people need their heads checked. Proof: http://www.peta.org/sea_kittens/ I can't make this crap up!

  • I love these kind of crazy things! Surely you'd have to get involved if you went?It looks like the humans would get more injured than the horses. Thousands(if not tens of thousands) of horses are killed at horse racing and rodeo events every year. That is more concerning to me than this festival. That sea kittens thing is a classic, surely someone is taking the piss?

  • Jack

    What is the name of the song playing in the video? Thanks!

  • Ashley Stephan

    Poor horses this festival sucks this is animal crulty would you want to be those horses if we were the horses everything your all saying would be different look at it that way. But ya know thats my opinion and i respect all of yours.

  • Amanloveschloe94

    Rapa Das Bestas

  • Macaramoosh

    Those horses don´t use horseshoes, they don´t need riders because they run free all the year except one day. Obiouslly many people think that put 4 horseshoes to this animals don´t make any stress if we compare it with the “Rapa”. I think a horse can have less stressfull moments to be cleaned and a better care but please be realistic. Do you know many places in western Europe where horses can run free during the year? Is a better life the one of horses elsewhere? If you wold like to change thinks in the way of life of Galician communities to make better this work, what that means? The same that happen since a few years with the milky cows? keep them in a farm all their lifes? Put youself in the place of a hose, yes that clean and beautifull horses forma clean and tidy barn. What do you preffer? to be marked whith red iron once on your life or a little ear pearcing instead? run free all the year or just for a while you stay inside your owners farm? to have cuted your hear and just the longest part (not everything)of your tail or to have almost everyday a saddle an a human over you? In Galicia we have problems in the countryside, and one of them is that nor for humans or animals wath many European people think is progress means a better life for us. Please, try to think about this in the properlly context. What means for the commonwealth owned horses to be cared in other way? More money? meaby, is that possible? an army of veterinarians going across the Galician mountains to do this job? beliveme, is not that easy. This is not the bloody bullfight and who compare it with that doesn´t make any favour to abolish that horrific thing. Please don´t be demagogue. Galicia has today the biggest horse lifestock in the Spanish state. Most of them run free in the mountains. The commonwealth cattle and horses are not vey usual in todays Europe. Please try first to understund the entire context and be clever to see what is just a sensationalist report. Come to Galicia and see it by yourselves.

  • This is nothing more than barbarism. It shows that human is the biggest beast….