Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Horse of the Sea

 The Camargue, also known as the "horse of the sea," lives near the delta of the Rhône River in the Camargue region of southern France, which is recognized by its saltwater marshes and lagoons, sandbars, coarse reeds, scorching summers, and harsh, bitter winters. Because of the salty, swampy environment, manades(herds) of the free-roaming Camargue must survive on a sparse diet tough grass. Their living conditions may seem tough, but they have had many years to adapt. Many people believe that the Camargue originates from either the long-extinct Soutre horse, which had lived over 17,000 years ago, or the Arabian, or even the Saracen horses, a breed that came to southern France in the eighth century with barbaric invaders. Some invaders from Celtic and Roman regions later found the Camargues on the Iberian Peninsula. As a result, the Camargue bloodlines became mixed with that of Spanish horses that lived nearby. 

 Because of many years out in tough environment, Camargues have become well-adpated to many difficult living conditions, including biting pests, humid summers, bitter winters, and though, salty forage, which even then is usually sparse. Even their robust exterior and wide hooves is a result of the wetlands where they have lived for centuries. 
Camargues have been toughened by the rough environment they live in.
Some distinct features are: the large head, the short neck
the stocky, compact body; the wide hooves, the thick legs,
and the heavy mane and tail. Their teeth are also adapted for eating
tough marsh grass, which most horses cannot digest. (credit)

 Even though the Camargue still runs wild in the marshes of the Camargue Regional Park in the early part of its life, their breeding is overseen by the Biological Research Station of the Tour du Valat. In 1976, the French government  began to register the main breeders and set standards for breeding. Two years later, the breed's studbook was set up. In order to be registered, a foal must fit the following criteria: it must be born outside, not in a stable, and it must be seen suckling from a registered mare. Foal are either labelled as sous berceau(in birthplace), meaning that they were born in the Camargue region, or hors berceau(out of birthplace), meaning that they were not born in the Camargue region. 

Camargue foals are born dark and lighten as they age, finally
becoming grey, like the one above.(credit)
 When the foals are finally weaned, they are exposed to humans for the first time. They are branded with  the symbol of their herd, a letter representing the year they were born, and an identification number. Many Camargues are saddled and trained when they are old enough and begin a lifelong career in herding Camargue bulls, which are used fro meat, bullfighting, and bull running and are also allowed to roam free in the marshes. 

 They are also ridden in parades and regional gardian races and are used in dressage, long-distance racing, driving, games(such as gymkhana) and other equestrian pursuits.

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