Far from the traditional racing tracks, a style of horse racing echoes a tradition from colonial Spain. Over 170 years ago, sailors would make landfall and unload their goods on the beach. Whether to blow off steam, pass the time or unwind after long months at sea, the sailors would race horses up and down the sandy beaches. The waves crashing just feet away as they galloped down the curving shoreline, these sailors sure knew how to enjoy their time off. Now, all these years in the future, the sport lives on in its native land.
Sanlucar de Barrameda is home to this spectacle, and though there are mild rules governing the game, it remains true to its rough and rowdy roots. The spectators line the beach, eager to see these riders control their powerful steeds over a course with no gates or boundaries. A simple wave of the flag is all it takes to set off the thunderous rush of hooves and roar of the crowd. This year alone brought nearly 40,000 spectators to enjoy the races. However, this level of freedom comes at a cost, and horses have been known to lose control. During this year’s race, a thoroughbred bolted off the track and into the parking lot.
Never one to eschew tradition, locals love the fusing of old and new that this sport represents. Corporate sponsors may endorse their favorite rider and social media may aid in spreading the word, but at day’s end it all comes down to the synchronicity between horse and rider. The crowd so close you can feel their cheering. The ground so soft it kicks up into the air with every motion. While horse racing in Spain suffers a recession, this fusion of traditions is thriving.
Free for beach goers and casual passers-by, this sport welcomes all who are willing to watch. For just a few euros, a private tent at the finish line with local foods and champagne awaits. Betting is welcome, but not necessary to enjoy the show. While not possessing the gravitas of a Kentucky Derby or Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Sanlucar de Barrameda is a must-see for all those who appreciate the power of a horse and the skill of a rider. For more on this event, click here.