The Camargue horse
Considered one of the oldest breeds of horses in the world, the Camargue horse is mostly known for being the faithful steed of the cattle herders in the South of France. With their striking white and grey features, and love for salt water, they can offer an equestrian experience that can be the highlight of any riding holiday in the south of France.
The History Behind the Camargue Horse
Sturdy and closely tied with the Iberian horses, they are believed to be descended from the now extinct Solutré, who lived in Burgundy approximately 17,000 years ago. As its name suggests, the Camargue horse comes from a wetland area in the mouth of the Rhône River, in France, called Camargue. Perfectly adapted to their harsh homeland, their hooves are larger, flatter, and more resistant to moisture than those of other horses, allowing them to navigate the tricky ground with ease. Camargue horses live in small herds usually consisting of a stallion, his mares and offspring. As this is a breed that lives in semi-liberty, their behaviour is regulated by the amount of food available.
In 1978, this breed was officially recognised by the Association des Eleveurs de Chevaux de Race Camargue, and today they are strictly protected. Their breeding is under supervision and it has rigorous procedures in order to maintain certain standards.
The modern-day cowboys use the Camargue horses to herd the Camargue bulls and cattle. These herdsmen that domesticate and work the horses in the area are know as Guardians, a name derived from the plains to the North known as Le Gard. Founded in 1512, the Brotherhood of the Herdsmen is the oldest brotherhood of its kind still present in France today.
You can see them every year on May 1st at the Festival of the Herdsmen in Arles. The day begins with a fantastic parade through Arles, featuring both guardians and locals in traditional costumes, and ends with some horsemanship games in the historic setting of the Arènes d’Arles, the Roman amphitheatre.
Appearance & Temperament
The Camargue horse is known for being on the smaller size, ranging from 13 to 14.5 hh, and weighing around 350 to 500 kg. Despite its small stature, the horse is agile and athletic with a good temperament. At birth, the foals are mostly covered with a dark-haired coat, but it gradually shifts with age. When they are around five years old they become white - while this is the prominent colour of these horses, they are often referred to as grey since most individuals tend to get greyish patches during changing seasons. With a large and heavy head, which sits on a short and powerful neck, it is easy to spot the similarities with the Barb horse.
An interesting fact about this breed is that they are seemingly immune to the mosquito, which comes in handy considering their natural habitat!
Nowadays, the Camargue horses are used to round up livestock and to herd bulls but the breed’s natural level-headed disposition make it ideal for Endurance riding. They have also been seen in cross-country and dressage events, and are popular at TREC competitions.
Considered robust and intelligent, Camargue horses are known for loving to be around water and it is fairly common to see these horses walking along the coast. This behaviour leads to them often being called the “horse of the sea”. They are very popular among the tourists for trail riding along the Mediterranean shore, so if you are planning on visiting, this is the best way to get to know the area.
Did you know?
The Camargue horse was introduced in the 70s to the Po delta in Italy. Over time they started to reproduce in that same area leading to a new horse breed altogether that derives directly from the Camargue called the “Cavallo del Delta” (Delta horse).
You can discover the Camargue in the South of France, learn about its fascinating equestrian traditions and ride Camargue horses on a riding holiday with Equus Journeys. Please see our “Beaches of Camargue” ride for more information.
To find out more about our rides, please visit our website.
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