The Golega Fair, Portugal
Every year, around the 2nd and 3rd week of November, the National Horse Fair of Portugal takes place in the small charming town of Golega, often known as Portugal's Capital of the Horse. The fair is centred around celebrating and showing off the amazing capabilities of the famous Portuguese horse breed, the Lusitano, and it has inspired many dressage and horse lovers over the years.
It is no surprise that such an incredible horse has an equally fascinating history. The heritage of this breed goes far before the great Roman crusades and medieval wars. The Lusitano was one of the first breeds to ever shape our perception of horses and show their skills beyond transportation and farm work. This brave and intelligent horse is capable of dramatic high school dressage moves and can perform alongside actors and dancers on stage.
The history of the breed begins with that of the Andalusian Spanish horse, as the two breeds were developed mostly for war purposes and bullfighting. Nowadays, the Andalusian and Lusitano are held in high regards in the world of international equestrian sports, admired not only because of their extravagant movements but also for their willingness to co-operate with their riders.
If you are passionate about the Lusitano and interested in the Portuguese culture and traditions, then the Golega National Horse Fair should be a 'must' in your bucket list. And with Equus Journeys, you can even combine a dressage holiday with a visit to the Fair!
National Fair - A Cultural Experience
The town of Golega is situated between the rivers Tagus and Almonda in Portugal's Ribatejo Province. The province is very much still rooted in traditions and it is not rare to meet 'Campinos' (Portuguese Cowboys) in nearby large farms. However, the town is mostly famous for being home to the oldest and most prestigious breeders of Lusitano horses.
The Golega National Horse Fair was founded in the 18th century as an agricultural fair intended to bring together all of the farmers of the area to promote and sell their produce to locals. Lusitano breeders, eager to get under the spotlight, took advantage of these gatherings and showed their horses at the fair. It wasn't long before the Lusitano became the main attraction, and the fair soon started to focus on the Lusitano's doubtless beauty. Today, the fair is known as "Feira Nacional do Cavalo" (National Horse Fair) and is one of the largest horse fairs in Portugal.
The Golega fair takes place each year at the beginning of November for a duration of about 10 days. The most important day is on the 11th of November as celebrations are combined with the Feast of Saint Martin. Locals and visitors alike can enjoy great food and wine as well and excellent shopping opportunities - you will find there gorgeous leather goods such as riding boots, bags, belts, jackets and of course, horse gear. Attendees dress in their finest traditional Portuguese riding attire to celebrate outside the stunning 16th-century church 'Nossa Senhora da Conceicao". The people's joyful spirit is contagious as you walk through the crowded streets filled with colours and years of traditions. It is definitely a one-of-a-kind equestrian experience!
A few steps away from the main ring you will be able to spot the "Casetas". These private lodges are set up only for the oldest Portuguese horse breeder families. The most beautiful Lusitano prize horses, with bloodlines that go back hundreds of years, stay not far from there. Sometimes the families will parade their horses around the Casetas, something you most definitely don't want to miss.
On the other hand, if you are interested in following the programme, then you want to head straight to the main arena. People usually stand around the arena while riders ride their horses as part of the official part of the programme. Not far from this area, another arena is set up where riders perform unofficially to warm up their horses and practice their unique routine for the real performance.
Golega is a big party - everyone is friendly and share in a common love for the Lusitano. Taking a stroll through the streets is the best way to absorb the unique atmosphere of the festivities. Some of the bars have even been designed to allow riders to actually ride inside! The Golega Fair really is a cultural treasure.
Every day, the programme will include something different, but the star of the show will always be the Lusitano. In the show classes, you will enjoy dressage competitions, endurance and jumping events. In the evening you will not want to miss the spectacular classical shows, such as the performance of the Appassionata equestrian theatre and the Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre were riders will perform next to magnificent bay Alter Real stallions.
Make sure to take the time to check out the incredible stands that offer action games as prizes are awarded and chats with locals are frequent. You never know where you might meet a Portuguese 'Lusitano' expert.
Just about anything! From watching indescribable gorgeous Lusitanos to having a few beers and laughs with the locals, this fair is a real cultural experience. The food, the attires and colours are a spectacle on their own. Once a year, this simple, tranquil town manages to become the Portuguese horse capital overnight, where horses, carriages and people come together for a few days. After all the excitement you might want to make the experience an annual tradition rather than just checking it out of the bucket list...
It is possible to combine a visit to the fair with dressage lessons on Lusitano horses. Equus Journeys' Classical Dressage and Golega fair riding holiday programme includes exactly that.
Your riding holiday will begin upon arrival at Alcainca. Once there your instructors will find you a horse that matches your expectations and riding abilities, and for the following days, you will work on learning or perfecting high school dressage movements.
After a few days of immersing yourself in the culture and connecting with the Lusitanos you will be taken to the Golega fair to find yourself in the middle of the excitement. This unique experience will definitely not only shape the way you see the Lusitano and dressage, but also the Portuguese culture and their wonderful equestrian traditions.
For more information, please take a look at our dressage holidays, and more generally horseback holidays in Portugal.
You can also contact us directly at email@example.com or call us on +44 (0)1905 388 977.