An ancient horse breed, native to the area of France called Camargue, the Camargue Horse belongs to Southern France. Although its origins are somewhat dubious, it is considered among the oldest breeds in the world. They are also known as “horses of the sea”.
For thousands of years, these horses, built on the smaller side, have lived in the Camargue marshes and wetlands. The harsh environment and wetlands of the Rhone Delta, have made these little horses tough.
Covering the departments of Gard and Bouches Du Rhone, these oldest breeds of horses developed agility, stamina and hardiness that makes them withstand the wilderness. Conventionally, living in semi-feral surroundings, this horse breed is the official mount belonging to the Gardians.
The Camargue “cowboys” (Gardians) herd black Camargue bulls in Southern France. A famous image created over the years is that of the Camargue Horse galloping through marshy water. These horses have been the subject of artists for years. Researchers claim that the Camargue breed descended from ancient Solutre Horses, going back to the Upper Paleolithic period. In Burgundy, France, substantial evidence exists implying this. Semi-wild, this breed was adored by Celtic and Roman invaders conquering the Iberian Peninsula. As a result, their heredity connected to Iberian steeds.
The Spanish Jaca horse (a war horse), cross-bred with the Celtic Pony and the Camargue Horse, was later enhanced by cross-breeding with Northern European strains. Finally, the southern peninsular horse was added as the Moors (Islamic inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula) ruled the Pyrenees. Due to this, Camargue genetics possibly infiltrated the Americas. Some qualities of the Camargue breed are seen in Criollo and Chilean Horses. Used on a massive scale for constructing the Suez Canal, Camargue horses proved efficient workers.
To conserve Camargue Horse standards, the French government created pure breed measures, registering breeders. In 1978, the breed’s stud book was established. Qualifying for registration, foals born outdoors, suckling from a mare, are registered in the stud book. This is proof of parentage. Foals born in a definitive area of France are registered as “sous berceau”. Those born elsewhere show as “hors berceau”.
All horses display square heads reminiscent of primitive horses. Influenced by Arabians, Barbs and Thoroughbreds, these traits are visible also. The Garidans care for horses, collecting them annually for health tests, branding and gelding of unacceptable horses.
Always gray, these horses are some of the most attractive horse breeds in the world. They have a layer of black skin under coats of white hair. Cutting an ethereal picture, running in wild marsh lands, these are the most enigmatic horses in the world.
Born with a coat of dark brown or black, these turn lighter as these horses grow. From afar, they look like white horses. Small as they are, these are rugged animals who can comfortably carry adults across rough terrain. Although innately wild, they are intelligent and are human-friendly.
The Camargue has a head resembling the Barb. With chiseled cheekbones and wide-set eyes, horses have full forelocks. The mane is full and abundant, and this appeals to viewers. A magical horse, this breed has well-proportioned legs with hard, tough hooves and broad soles. This trait aligns with the horse’s adaptation to its marshy environment. Calm and intelligent, these horses adapt easily.
In Western Europe’s largest river delta, these Horses thrive among a panorama of rippling marshes, swamps, paddies of rice and old villages. Nature lovers from all over the world visit, only to watch the Camargue Horse graze.
The oldest breeds of horses are not picky eaters. They live off tall reeds and samphire, an indigenous plant species. In winter, these tough horses eat dry grasses and goose foot. They can graze for 22 hours straight when food is scarce.
Breeding And Uses
Originally bred from the Solutre Horse, the Camargue is a fine blend of all the good qualities of the best horses in the world. When the Romans and Welsh invaded the Iberian Peninsula, Julius Caesar promoted the breeding of these horses and was in great admiration of their sturdiness.
Napoleon made them part of his army. The Camargue Horse has antecedents of Spanish Jaca and Chilean Horses, both suited to battle. Used to tend cattle in the wild, these horses take part in events and dressage too. Amenable to the show ring as well as in racing events, these horses with their long legs are a treat.
In 1970, these horses were incorporated into the pro delta in Italy. In 2011, there were some 165 Chevaux De Race Camargue (165 of the race of Camargue horses) in Italy and these have become a native Italian breed. Registered as “Cavallo Del Delta”, their number has increased.
Widespread use in equestrian games and events throughout Europe makes horses ever popular with horses galloping swiftly. The 1953 French film, “Crin-Blanc” portrayed these horses and the Camargue region. The film won accolades at the Cannes Film Festival.
Considered among the small horses in the world, they typically stand at 13.1 – 14.3 hands from the perspective of the withers. Weighing in at 350 – 500 kg, they are light but robust. Their bodies look compact.
What Breeds Make Up The Camargue Horse?
A descendant of an ancient paleolithic horse, the Camargue Horse is traced back to Solutre Horses of the Upper Paleolithic Period. Almost prehistoric, these horses lived in the wilderness, hunted for their special abilities enabling them to live in semi-feral conditions.
Later on, as invaders entered the Iberian Peninsula, the original wild horse blended with Spanish Jaca horses and Celtic Ponies. With the passing of time, other premium breeds like Arabians, Barbs and Thoroughbreds were added to the breeding of horses, resulting in an exceptionally versatile breed.
As they are registered today, they are horses foaled and authenticated in France’s Camargue region. They are branded before weaning, and form a “manade”. This is a semi-wild herd system. The breed cradle or “berceau” is stringently definitive, and includes 45 groups in French Departments (areas). These Departments are those of Bouches-du-Rhone, Herault and Gard.
Broadly, two types of the Camargue breed are bred:
- “Camargue Hors Manade” – These are horses, registered in the stud book, foaled and validated inside the Camargue region.
- “Camargue Hors Berceau” – These consist of horses registered in the stud book, but foaled and authenticated outside the Camargue area.
From afar, these look like white horses, but up close, you will see that their coats are light gray. Some appear a cream-gray shade.
At birth, foals are black or dark brown. As they grow into adults, a coat of white hair develops, and with dark color underneath, the coat appears gray.
What Do They Look Like?
With a deep chest in a compact body that is very impressive, the Camargue Horse has strong limbs and an abundant mane and tail. The head looks heavy, like the Barb’s, but the eyes are alert below a flat forehead. Chiseled cheekbones offset small ears. The neck, medium-sized sits on powerful shoulders. The withers, though not exaggerated, are distinctive.
Their backs, well-supported, exhibit slightly slanting full croup. Long slender legs, fully proportionate, have big knees and hocks. Soles match well with the swampy habitat of horses, large and very wide for firm footed walks and gallops.
What Are They Used For?
A horse of many uses, the Camargue partakes in cattle herding, shows and events. The only “cowboys of Europe”, the Gardians, breed and use them for bull fights in the region, Camargue black bulls chosen for these rodeo-type fests.
Throughout history, Camargue Horses, used by emperors like Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte, are well-documented. As battle steeds, these were quick and light-footed, able to travel long distances without discomfort.
Nowadays, horses appear in shows in Europe, most notably in Northern Camargue at Arles. In a fabulous parade, the Fete Des Gardians, Camargue Horses perform show-stopping feats.
Where Do They Live?
They live in native Southern France, bred and identified there for authentic approval into the national stud book. Some horses live all over the European continent, in Spain and Italy primarily.
There is a British Camargue Horse Society, registering horses in Great Britain.
How Long Do They Live?
They live for 20 – 25 years, immune to pests in the region, most commonly mosquitoes. These tough horses are normally healthy and immune to horse ailments.
How Fast Are They?
These horses have the ability and strength to contain and maneuver a group of black bulls at a rapid pace.
How Much Do They Cost?
A Camargue Horse can cost anywhere from $5,000 – $11,900 or 5,000 – 10,000 Euros, depending on its ancestry, registration, training and abilities. Age is also a factor while buying a horse.
Are They Good For Beginners?
Camargue horse riding is especially good for beginners, children and adults, and tourists often opt to ride horses while visiting the region.
Conclusion / Summary
Superbly built and very user-friendly, these horses are a pleasure to ride, tend to cattle and have an innate sense of organization. A trip to the south of France to see these rare wonders would be worth the trouble.
At the Camargue National Park, you can witness herds of Camargue horses as they run together, characteristically at a gallop through wetlands. Graceful and clever, they may thrive in the wilderness. Nonetheless, their lineage produces horses that are loyal and love human contact.