Meeting in France from 22. – 27. September 2013
The last meeting within the Leonardo da Vinci partnership program “Encouraging assistant instructors for taking vocational action skills” led the apprentices and their accompanying teachers to southern France to the Camargue to study the famous Camargue horse breed. All the participants had to take a very long journey that made it necessary to plan for two days to travel there.
The German delegation made their first stop in Arles to explore the sights there. The yellow house where Vincent van Gogh lived and the view over some places he painted in some of his pictures impressed us strongly.
After arriving in Saintes Maries de la Mer our hosts gave us a very warm welcome.
The participants got to know each other by solving the „Euro Horse Quiz“ after dinner in one of the various restaurants in Saintes Maries de la Mer.
The Camargue horses grow up wild and are kept as half-wild horses because they are mainly used as mounts. Therefore the horses were observed in the wild to document their behavior but also the usage of the horse breed was studied.
For that purpose we visited the bull-breed farm „Manade Chapelle-Burgeas“ on the first day of our meeting.
There we experienced the Camargue horses to tend a flock of bulls. For safety reasons we were transported to the spacious fields by tractor and trailer. The “Gardians” (= bull guardians) demonstrated the drive of a bull flock as well as the separation of a calf from the flock to brand it. Besides the brand the young bulls are cut in the ear to mark them.
In the nature reserve „Le Domaine de la Palissade“ the Camargue horses can move freely and live in herds. Before studying the herds we got an explanation of the meaning of the brands by a horse expert. The walk through the nature reserve gave us an impression of the food supply for the animals. The food plants are mainly Salicorne or “Enganos” which belong to the species of succulents and are full of salt water. The horses are also adapted to the naturally available salt water.
The second day was dedicated to riding the Camargue horses in the riding centre „La Grenouillère“. The visit there was enriched by theory on breeding the Camargue horses and knowledge about saddles. For that purpose the participants were divided into three groups to experience theory and practice.
In the afternoon the delegations went to see a bull fight in the Arena of Saintes Maries de la Mer. The „Courses camarguaises“ is a bloodless fight between a bull and numerous bullfighters (= „Razeteurs“) in the arena. The bullfighters try to tear cords and tassels from the horns of the bull with the help of a comb that is stuck to their hand. They are chased through the arena by the bull and the young men in white clothes often can only escape by jumping over the ring fence. It is a rather sporty competition between animal and men that can also be won by the bull or the bull occasionally escapes by jumping over the ring fence.
The day program concluded with the compulsory walkabout on the roof of the pilgrimage church in Saintes Maries de la Mer which was built between the 9th and the 11th century. The view swept over the red-purple colored, plain landscape, the town itself and the sea.
The third and last day we spent in a rice museum. The Camargue is one of only three European rice-growing areas and the apprentices got an overview on the techniques used in older days and nowadays and on the rice-processing techniques. The cultural program concluded in a boat-trip on the “Petite Rhone”, which showed various horse and bull flocks on the river banks and gave an impression of the typical food supply and endless rice fields. All the estates on the right and left side of the banks are used to breed Camargue horses and bulls. The animals´ neighborhood shows their tight relationship and they live outside the whole year round.
The meeting left a broad impression of the horses´ lives and the apprentices had another possibility to extend their skills in their field of work and to practice their communication and social skills.
The four partner countries will meet again in spring 2014 in Germany to deal with different horse-keeping styles, after the participants now know about the behavior of horses living in the wild, their needs to survive and after having developed criteria for species-appropriate horse-keeping.