13 Dec Hare Coursing In Andalusia
A traditional Andalusian Country Pursuit
I was invited by a friend of mine, Pepe, to join him hare coursing near Sanlucar de Barrameda which is not far from Jerez.
The hare coursing season in Andalusia takes place during the autumn and winter. This is a traditional sport that dates back many years and brings together the country men and villagers who are passionate about greyhounds, with the local landowners whose large fincas and estates are the natural habitat for the hares.
The meeting point was on a large arrable farm. The landscape was vast with open, ploughed fields that stretched out for miles. We were close to the mouth of the Guadalquivir River and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
By the time we arrived, the horse lorry was already there with the horses tethered and tacked up alongside it. There were about 15 riders in total, some riding vaquero (the Spanish style) with saddles like arm chairs and big, clunky stirrups. The the rest of the group rode with English tack. I was given a beautiful thorougbred four year old mare, an ex racehorse called Miss Moneypenny who was an absolute joy to ride. The Spanish men all looked terribly smart with their flat caps and shiny boots. One or two even had full length suede chaps on. The galgeros (dog owners) were a more earthy bunch, dressed in a mix-mash of boiler suits, garish tracksuit tops and caps. What they lacked in sartorial elegance they made up for in warmth and charm. The greyhounds won the elegance prize. They stood like catwalk models, thin and lean with endless legs and chisled features. I think its very sad that people abandon these beautiful animals and applaud all those who give these dogs a new home and second chance. The galgeros told me that many also get stolen which is equally sad.
The Andalusians are a very hospitable bunch and before we did anything too strenuous we were offered quite a few shots of sherry to keep out the chill from the strong wind. We then mounted up and formed a horizontal line with the horses close to one another. The dogs were in pairs, walked by their handlers and went at the front, a short distance ahead of the horses.
The morning progressed slowly as we methodically combed the fields going up and down searching for the hares that are so well camoflaged with the earth, they are almost impossible to see until you practically step on them. The galgeros saw one in its nest and stopped to show me. Although it was literally 10 feet from me and they pointed its position, I still could not spot it until it leapt up and sprinted off like a lightning bolt of speed.
The hare is always given a head start and the greyhounds became hysterical, pulling frantically at their leashes, until a pair of dogs were released and the chase began. The horses and riders galloping behind trying to watch the race and see how it developed. Hares do not run in a straight line but weave and turn making it difficult for the dogs to pick up enough speed before they have to turn sharply to keep on course. I´m sure the hare could almost feel the heat of the dogs breath on its neck. At one point I thought the hare was about to lose but again, it turned at break-neck speed and darted off passing a fence and leaving the dogs behind. This hare would live to see another day.
This is a very sociable event and I had plenty of opportunity to talk to all the fellow riders which was fun as we spent many hours in the saddle. By the end of the morning some of the hares had not been so lucky and will soon be making their way into a paella or stew.
After about four hours, we made our way back to the cars and lorries and more sherry and wine was opened. This time our drinks were accompanied by a lovely spread of spicy chorizo sausage, Spanish tortilla, cold cuts of meat, salads and cheese. Tables, stools and chairs appeared and I spent the next few hours chatting with the riders and the galgeros. It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday and I´ve already signed up for the next one, if they´ll have me!
The hare coursing season runs from October through to February. Please let me know if you would like to arrange a long weekend in Seville and participate in this experience. You can mix your trip up with culture and site-seeing as well as other riding activities if you wish. I can create a bespoke weekend especially for you.