Every year in the first weekend of July, the Rapa das Bestas de Sabucedo takes place. This is a traditional event where wild horses from the mountains are led to an arena in the village. In this arena the horses are controlled with bare hands to cut there manes and tails. The event takes place in different locations in Galicia. The most famous event is the Rapa das Bestas in the village of Sabucedo and attracts many visitors each year.
What is the Rapa das Bestas?
Rapa das Bestas literally means ‘cutting of the beasts’. In the mountains of inland Galicia there live large herds of wild horses. Once a year, local men lead the horses from the mountains to arenas in the villages. The event starts on Saturday with the collection of the animals, which continues until the arena is completely filled with horses. Once the arena is filled the local men jump on to the horses to control them and finally to cut their manes and tails. The men in the arena, called aloitadores, may only use their physical strength and skill to get the horses on their knees. The reason for working with bare hands instead of using sticks and whips is that they see the horses as equals. If necessary, the animals also receive veterinary help in the arena.
The process of cutting the manes of a horse is as follows: Two men, the aloitadores, jump on the horse and embrace its head. Then, one of the men tries to climb on the horse while the other tries to calm it down. Once under control, they try to get the horse on its knees, and finally cut the mane and tail. All of this is done by hand and with teamwork between the locals.
Young foals are separated from the herd. They are marked so that they can be recognized later. In the past, they were branded, but nowadays, this is done with microchips.
After a few days, the horses are released again, and they move away from the crowds and form their herds again in the mountains.
The following video gives a good overview of what happens during Rapa das Bestas:
Which horses are cut?
The event involves wild horses that live in the mountains of Galicia, near to the villages that host a curro (Rapa das Bestas). There are no domesticated horses that are kept as pets involved.
Galicia is one of the places in Europe with the most wild horses. However, the number of wild horses in Galicia has decreased significantly over the past century. In 1970, there were still over 22,000, but now there are only about 10,000 horses left in the wild. There are several reasons for this. Nowadays, there is more forest, but there are also forest fires that burn down forests and grasslands, after which eucalyptus grows. This makes it more difficult for the horses, and their population decreases. In the long run, this could even threaten the tradition of Rapa das Bestas!
History of the Rapa das Bestas
Men cutting horses with bare hands can only be an old tradition. It has been proven that the tradition already took place in the 18th century. There are even indications that the tradition is much older and dates back to the medieval century.
The tradition arose when farmers caught wild horses in this way to use them for agricultural work. The aloitadores were skilled horse catchers at the time and used their skills to catch and tame the animals.
The tradition is actually called ‘curro’. A ‘curro’ is the gathering of horses to cut there manes and tails. Rapa das Bestas is the name of the specific event in Sabucedo, a small village of about 200 inhabitants in the interior of Pontevedra, about an hour’s drive from Santiago de Compostela. Due to the (touristic) popularity of the event in Sabucedo the curro’s are now best know under the term Rapa das Bestas.
Discussion on animal welfare
The intention is definitely animal-friendly. Wild horses are examined, chipped, and then trimmed. However, there is a debate about whether the way this is done is actually friendly to the horses.
Animal welfare organizations, such as PETA, have criticized the event as cruel and barbaric. They argue that chasing the horses down the mountain, dragging them into an arena, and then holding them down to trim their manes and tails is traumatizing for the animals. PETA also questions the fact that the horses are released back into the wild after being restrained and handled by humans, which could lead to increased stress and vulnerability in the herd.
On the other hand, locals argue that the tradition has been passed down for generations and is an important part of their cultural heritage. They claim that the horses are not harmed during the event and that the aloitadores are highly skilled and experienced in handling the animals. They also point out that the event is closely monitored by veterinarians to ensure the safety and well-being of the horses.
In recent years, the event has been modified to address some of these concerns. The event has become more regulated with additional presence of vets and an increased scrutiny from animal welfare organizations and local authorities.
In conclusion, the Rapa das Bestas is a controversial but fascinating event that has deep roots in the cultural heritage of Galicia. While there are valid concerns about animal welfare, it is clear that the organizers are taking steps to address these issues and ensure that the horses are treated with respect and care.
What do you think of the Rapa das Bestas?