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When I read that the WhiteFire Publishing was looking for stories in exotic settings, I thought about my novel, Stained Glass Windows in the Dark, set in Mexico. It's a contemporary story with lots of adventures for my heroine and hero. But, where would I go for a historical setting that oozes exotic?
About that time, my husband came in to announce that he's thinking about getting another horse—a white horse from Camargue.
I bet you said the same thing I did—from where?
Turns out our friend, Tom, who specializes in unique, dare I say exotic, horse breeds, recently purchased a horse from the marshy delta of the Rhone River, by the French Mediterranean coast.
France! Now that sounds exotic to this Colorado cowgirl. After my morning ride to count cows, I settled in to do some research on the horses and cowboys of Camargue.
Born brown or black, the horses turn white in maturity about age four.
They may be seven years old before they reach their typical height of 13.2-14.2 hands high (about 58 or "fourteen-two hands"). My favorite horse, Dakota, is 62" or fifteen and a half hands, or 15.2hh said as fifteen-two, or fifteen hands two inches.
|courtesy of Wikipedia|
Conformation isn't one of the Camargue's attributes. They have plain large head, upright shoulders, short necks, long manes, and heavy tails. However, they have good depth of girth, strong limbs and feet, and short backs. Coupled with good stamina, surefootedness, responsiveness, and a friendly nature, they're a good saddle horse.
Tom said "Charger" had a high-stepping walk, a bit of a stilted trot, but an even stride canter and gallop. Apparently, these are common gaits for this breed. He does have a lot of energy, power, and personality. His hooves are so tough that he doesn't need shoes. My farrier wouldn't be happy about that!
According to a tourist brochure, Camargue has an ancient and wild culture with its famous white horses, and herds of black bulls tended by the Les Gardiens, the "earthy marshland cowboys" in their moleskin leather pants, colored floral shirts, and wide-rimmed black Stetsons. They carry a trident, long three-pronged sticks, to manage the cattle. Women are becoming Gardiens in increasing numbers. The wandering gypsies brought the Spanish influence to the region with their horsemanship, bullfights, flamingo dancing, and the paella.
The Camargue is home to the most ferocious mosquitoes found anywhere in France. The horses' long mane and strong, long tail would be a natural mosquito repellant. The women Gardiens never show their hair when riding, which has a lot to do with keeping gnats and mosquitoes out of their long hair and ears.
The region can be compared with the Florida Everglades, without the alligators, the Louisiana bayous and the plains of Nebraska. The marshlands are shared by white horses, black bulls and pink flamingos.
What's a horse and cowboy on a manade (ranch) without a bull? The Festival of les Gardiens puts the spotlight on these cowboys who rear the region's fighting bulls for export to Spain. Unlike Spain and Mexico, bulls are never killed in the Camargue bullfights.
The black bulls are diminutive and lean with thick, large lyre-shaped horns, and a shiny dark brown/black hide. That aggressive look warns of a mean streak characteristic of the breed. They're fast and excellent jumpers. I'm glad our black Angus steers are de-horned.
The bulls, horses, and the tridents used by the Gardiens are forged into the culture of Camargue. Created by sculptor and painter Hermann Paul, the Camargue cross embodies this infusion.
Formed with a Latin cross whose tips symbolize the Gardiens' trident and the lower end of a sea anchor topped with a heart.
The cross stands for the three cardinal virtues: the cross for faith, the anchor for hope, and the heart for charity.
Up to age fifteen, the girls in the Camargue province wear the Mireille costume.
|Courtesy of http://castets.pagesperso-orange.fr|
As a rite of passage, they will wear the Arlesian costume. At the "Festo Vierginenco" event on the last Sunday of July they will trade their cap for a specially designed hair ribbon.
|Courtesy of http://castets.pagesperso-orange.fr|
The Arlesian hair ribbon first appeared as part of their costume around 1835. It's woven on a loom and the velvet appearance is developed in a process called sabrage using a tool called a "sword."
The Festival of les Gardiens also brings out the older women and their costumes—lace parasols, lace shawls, artfully tied lace hats, and elegant colorful dresses.
For the Festival, the men put on black velvet jackets, colorful shirts, ties, and a wide-brimmed hat for this grand occasion.
Can't you just envision a wonderful French-style, Spanish influenced, cowboy love story set on the marshy delta of the Rhone River, by the French Mediterranean coast?
Where would you set your exotic story?
Lin and her husband, Jerry, live on the P-R, a hay and cattle ranch, in Chimney Rock, Colorado. The only add-on to her daily wear of jeans and boots is chaps when she's on horseback.