Borrowing Freedom, Saint-Éloi

Posted by on May 28, 2014 in Odds & Sods | No Comments

“In riding a horse we borrow freedom” Helen Thompson

Finally, I’ve started going through the pics shot last August during the Fête de Saint-Éloi in Cuges les Pins, France. I was there by invitation of Françoise and Madeline of Tadlachance as a ‘pre-residency’ to Nomadic Village 2013 which was to start the following month. Unfortunately, a week after I got back from this trip things went a bit pear-shaped family wise and I didn’t make it back to Cuges to show the work and finish the project.

It’s been years since I shot B&W. I’ve quite enjoyed it!

Andalusian stallion at 'Chaps'

Andalusian stallion at ‘Chaps’, a Western style riding school on the edge of Cuges

Saint-Éloi, the patron saint of goldsmiths and blacksmiths is honoured during the first week of August in Cuges les Pins. It’s a typically Provençal festival that brings the town together to commemorate Éloi with banquets, fire dancing, bonfires, music and on the final day, a cavalcade through the town infront of thousands of spectators and ending infront of the church for the priest to bless the horses and riders.

The festival of Saint Eloi was the inspiration and starting point for the work and my plan was to immerse myself into the equestrian culture of Cuges les Pins, a town where there is 1 horse per 6 people and document the daily lives of people who use horses there for work, for leisure, for tourism and for food.

The plains outside Cuges

The plains outside Cuges

I met a wide variety of horse owners during my short time in Cuges. Some of the older men owned traditional French farming horses such as the heavy draft Percheron and Breton, and lighter draft Comtois, but they were no longer used for agriculture. At OK Coral, a Western style theme park there were a team of Fresians (a breed originating from the Netherlands) and a team of Shires (a draft horse originating from England) who were used on a daily basis in their Western shows. They also bred giant Mules (Percheron horse x Donkey) who were much sought after for use in the traditional festivals. I met a young stunt rider with an Andalucian stallion (Spanish breed) and ‘Mr Chaps’, who had a herd of Argentine Criollos, he uses them in his Western style riding school for demos, stunt riding and cattle herding.

The plains outside Cuges were once home to vineyards and olive plantations, now it’s equestrian properties with competiton quality facilities to accomodate the rise in horse ownership in the area.

Preparation for the cavalcade

Mules and horses are prepared for the cavalcade

Saint Eloi, Cuges les Pins 2013

Horses take a break as their riders join a service in the Church

Saint Eloi, Cuges les Pins, 2013

The dress code is traditional Provençal

Saint Eloi, Cuges les Pins 2013

The priest blesses the horses and riders