History & Folklore
The Cleggs, old friends, travelled to Argentina and Chile celebrating Colettes 50th birthday. Relations of the Lady Florence Dixie. A super holiday and great adventure following in her hoof prints. Including celebrating Christmas and seeing in the 2014 New Year at 51 degrees south! All good fun.
A colourful journey of many sorts. India, she has a great many things to share, and share she does, in limitless bounds. As soon as one sets foot in her domain, the experience is like a rush on all the principal senses and it carries on & on, full of suprises. We came, once again, to enjoy the extreme diversity of this wonderful sub continent. Bonnie was our wonderful host and what fun it was to ride out his Mewari horses. We knew him to be a real gentleman and, indeed, in great character, clad in splendid attire, with affectionate manner and warm spirit, he hosted and guided us through the maze of forts, villages and agricultural lands of this Shekawati region. What fun, travelling with the Rajput Clan, carrying the coat of arms ‘Victory follows Virtue´, staying in their homes, listening, in situ, to great historical tales of the invading Moghals from centuries past; and we were mounted on the bloodline of the same horses. We had a splendid team moving us from fort to camp to havelli, as our safari crossed this region, winding its way toward Pushkar, famed for her Brahmin Temple and annual Camel Fair.
Rajasthan folk singers, camel trains of nomads, women working the land in their bright saris; men harvesting produce on the ground and high up in the trees. Sudden encounters, mid canter, with camel carts taking over the small sandy tracks. Picking our way through the old streets of villages, reining the horses down narrow pathways. Children running out waving. Men sporting colourful turbens. Bicycles at every turn. Rickshaw horns blowing enthusiastically, increasingly as they pass the horses! Fine bollywood tunes sounding from buses full to the brim with people and produce. Chance meetings with snake charmers in the countryside, the horses un phased as the flute brought the cobra into sight. Meandering cows at every turn. The call of prayer in the morning . time for yoga! Another Indian wedding! Diwali, it is the marriage season . Big smiles. Nodding enthusiastically, never a hint of negativity, always a yes! Chai flowing like spring water, hot and steaming in a fine thermos from dawn to dusk. Colourful tents. Cheery camp fires. Chapatis warmed on the coals. How delicious. The joy of curry, blessesd is the one who invented spice, ghee and the lentil. You know you are really living when your are in India!
This was a weekend away from Arabian Horses and the ‘ Pura Sangre’ thoroughbreds – but instead a safari on the horse drawn wagon – in the Vale of Pewsey – with the Mallinsons, Katkhudas and the Empress.
Interestingly in the UK Reading was a centre for building these horse drawn wagons. These smaller wagons were called “vardo” in the Romani language (originating from the Iranian word vurdon) for cart. The Romani vardo evolved into some of the most advanced forms of travelling wagon.
Philippa´s vardo is fairly simple, compared to some extremely ornate designs. It is funny because the artwork is similar to folk art seen in areas of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
One quickly gets into the ‘zone’, cruising along at a mellow pace, some up beat trotting as and when Black Jack has the urge. One takes over the lanes somewhat, but you are always greeted with beaming smiles and generally embraced when sneaking into private land for camping or parking for a pint at the pub!
Wagons were first used as a form of living accommodation (as opposed to carrying people or goods) in France in 1810 by non-Romani circus troupes. Romanichals in Britain started using wagons that incorporated living spaces on the inside, and added their own characteristic style of decoration.
Our vardo, probably fitted into the Bow Top variety, based on the design of the Ledge wagon, the Bow Top is significantly lighter, and less likely to turn over in a strong wind. The design incorporated a light weight canvas top, supported by a wooden frame. Both back and front walls of the wagon were decorated in scrollwork and tongue and groove and the wagon was painted green to be less noticeable in woodland. The inside of the Bow Top also contained the same high scrollwork or Chenille fabric, with a stove, table and bed.
The kids loved piling into the wagon. Willa Mallinson very much assumed ownership! It was super having Romy, Jim and I´s goddaughter on board. Rather appropriately named for the Romanichal style of travel!
Philippa kept impressive contoll of the wagon admidst a sea of little ones hanging on from all angles, sitting on laps and taking the reins. Well played to Black Jack, who was characteristically mellow and beautifully behaved somehow carefully managing the chaos that was happening behind and maintaining a solid, steady performance at times of need.
Il Palio is a horse race between 10 of the 17 Sienese contrade, city wards . It takes place twice a year and is run in the central Piaza del Campo. It is highly competive, full of passion, great fun, and ridden bareback a fantastic pace.
The July race is held to co-incide with the date of the Feast of Visitation and also is held in honour of the Madonna of Provenzana.
Among the events that mark the approach of the Palio are the rehearsal suppers. The day before the race the contrade (city wards) prepare their tables to host feasts for their members. It is such a fabulous sight seeing all the contrade laying up to 500 places outside in the streets.
We dashed round to see all the preparations and thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the atmosphere of each contrada. Each of the 10 contrade competing have their specific place in the city where they prepare supper outside taking over a piazza or street and often right outside their church where the horse enters to be blessed prior to racing. Flags flying in numbers marking clearly each zone.
As far as I know Siena is the only catholic city in the world which allows horses to enter it´s churches to be blessed. Fantastic!
In the first of the four days of the festival, the lottery is held and the subsequent combination of the barbero (the term for “racehorse” in the city of Siena and Tuscany) to districts in the race. The stone race track around the square is covered with a layer of dirt composed of a mixture of tuff, clay and sand. Six trials are run, during which the riders have the opportunity to understand better the behaviour of the horse and to get used to the square, its sounds and rhythms of the race.
The atmosphere is highly charged and if you immerse yourself into the build in the days before you soon realise that this much more than a race, that this is something particular to the Sienese for whom it is a way of life.
We enjoyed very much getting involved in the whole build, it enabled us to understand and appreciate the importance of Il Palio. We of course loved the pageant, the race and celebrations afterward (particularly as our contrada won – Onda, the colours blue and white.
The contrade spend the year preparing for the occasion. It is fantastic how it joins all the communities of the city – particularly in the 4 build up days – everyone out in the streets eating and talking – despite contrade rivalries there is a proudness which is wholly Sienese and unique. The winning contrada provides the wine for everyone to drink, it flows from huge containers lining the street, there are no exclusions.
The origins of horse racing in Siena dates back to medieval times. This race in particular began to take on more importance as other competitive games diminished or became banned. The first modern Palio called Palio alla Tonda (to distinguish it from the earlier Palio alla lunga which ran across the city) took place in 1656.
Our contrada is Onda (Wave), light blue and white in colour, with a fish as the animal mascot. Each contrada has its own animal or mascot. Others include the Giraffe, Snail, Eagle, Unicorn, Rhino, Porcupine and so on. Each has specific colours, distinct city boundary marked by numerous flags during the days before and after the racing. Each member will be wearing a scarf in the colours.
We ate with everyone in the streets at tables laid in the Onda colours and wine served badged with an Onda lable. It was a great scene, everyone chatting about the race the horse, the jockey and what tactics to employ in the race. Families all out with their children, including Jonny and Maria with little Enzo.
On the day before the Palio, the Italians were playing the Spanish in the final of the European cup. There wasn´t one Italian football shirt being worn and there was no mention or interest at all in the game nor the result! That is how important this horse race is to the people – completely focused on the horses. Amazing.
Onda´s horse was called Ivanoff, it was a fine black gelding, and having got fully immersed in the build we were in no doubt that it would win. Not only did the horse look in the best shape. The jockey sat well riding bareback, seeming to be able to keep his horse calm in the trial run and stood the best chance of getting the all important early lead before the first bend.
It was quite an experience on the day. horses are blessed in their contrade churches at 3.00pm and crowds begin filling the Piaza thereafter. There is a mass held for the Jockeys as well.
The Plaza shuts all the gates by 6.30pm. Jonny and I had planned a strategic late entry into the infamous middle of the piaza through the last gate to close, so as to get position on the edge and not be crammed in for too long. It was fun and a super atmosphere slowly filtering into the square and actually it was surprising roomy inside and the plan came good!
There was a magnificent pageant preceding the race which is called the Corteo Storico. Huge Brahmin bulls pulled a chariot with the all important Palio being held by priests. All in all it is riot of colour with flags flying, flags being thrown into the air, scarves being shaken – quite a scene full of medieval overtones.
The race itself runs for three laps of the Piazza del Campo, the perimeter of which is covered with several inches of dirt and tuff and the corners of which are protected with padded crash barriers for the occasion. The piazza is far from circular and takes some fine horsemanship and indeed skilled horses to hold a good line at speed. It is fast and furious and all over within a minute!
The jockeys ride the horses bareback – they enter the arena to great applaud and head to the starting line, an area between two ropes. Nine horses, in an order only decided by lot immediately before the race starts, enter the space. The tenth, the rincorsa, waits outside. When the rincorsa finally enters the space between the ropes the starter (mossiere) activates a mechanism that instantly drops the canapo (the front rope). This process (the mossa) can take a very long time, as deals have usually been made between various contrade and jockeys that affect when the rincorsa moves – he may be waiting for a particular other horse to be well- or badly-placed, for example.
The detonation of an explosive charge echoes across the piazza, signaling to the crowds that the race is about to begin – and amazingly 60,000 people fall silent.
Jonny and I could see the horses endlessly jossling for their place up against the starting rope and evidently one jockey preventing a start, heightening the tension. There was even a false start. The winner is the first horse to cross the finish line—a horse can win without its rider a condition known as cavallo scosso.
Onda, our contrada, won, which was very exciting and made this Palio very special. The celebrations were amazing afterward, everyone moving toward the Onda zone. Huge amounts of wine beginning to line the streets.
Onda flags and scarfs flying, being waved proudly, drums beating and church bells ringing. Bewildered and happy faces hanging out of their open windows. A tide of blue and white taking over the city.
The jockey carried passed on different people´s shoulders. The horse, Ivanoff, only a street away in his stable where a worship like descent was made by thousands of Sienese to pay homage. The stable, like an open house for people to enter, touch and stroke the horse now reached divine status.
The days after the Palio we explored the sienese countryside where the horse grazes amongst the olive groves and vineyards.
Pepita turned 100 years old in March 2012, but sadly died soon after. Pepita was a fabulous character, an extrordinary talented horsewoman and greatly loved in the region. She will be tremendously missed, having given us many very happy times and memories over the years. Dear Pepita.
Until the next Bagual expedition to Tuscany.
‘ … and in fancy I once more behold that distant desert land – the land of the lonely plains, where the guanaco and the ostrich and red Indian roam far from the ken of mankind and where I spent a careless, happy time which I can never forget, I remember the days when after a long weary ride, I slept, pillowed on my saddle, the open sky above me, a sounder and sweeter sleep than I had ever slept before. I remember those grand mountain scenes where we traced the wild horse to his home, through beechwood glens, by lonely lakes, by mountain torrents where no mortal foot had ever trod before me. I remember many an exciting chase and a pleasant evening around a cheery camp fire …’ Lady Florence Dixie, 1879
´´Patagonia! Who would ever think of going to such a place? … Why, it is thousands of miles away, no-one has ever been there before, except Captain Musters, and one or two other adventurous madmen!” ”These and similar questions and exclamations I heard from the lips of my friends and acquaintances, when I told them of my intended trip … What was the attraction of this outlandish place? The answer to the question was contained in its own words. Precisely because it was an outlandish place and far away, I chose it. Palled for the moment with civilization and it’s surroundings where I might be as far removed from them as possible …one wearies of the shallow artificiality of modern existence … and a longing grows up in one to taste a more vigorous emotion … I cast round for some country which should possess the qualities necessary to satisfy my requirements and finally I decided on Patagonia as the most suitable. … no where else are you so completely alone. Nowhere else is an area of 100,000 square miles which you may gallop over, whilst enjoying a healthy, bracing climate, you are free from the persecutions of fevers, friends, savage tribes, obnoxious animals, telegrams, letters and every other nuisance you are elsewhere liable to be exposed to. To these attractions was added the thought, always alluring to an active mind, that there to one should be able to penetrate into vast wilds, virgin as yet to the foot of man.” Lady Florence Dixie 1879
Some more discoveries and wonderful riding in the South of Chile where the sun didn´t stop shining! Where folk welcomed us with open arms and horses carried us through breathtaking terrain. Riding up valleys and down valleys where Florence Dixie and her party rode and camped in 1879. We galloped alongside guanaco and rhea, enjoying their graceful movement and agility. Thinking at times how challenging it must have been for Dixie to hunt and bring down such speedy quarry – skilfully managing to fire a rifle whilst moving at full gallop.
”It is marvelous how the ordinary excitement of hunting is increased when, as in our case, one’s dinner depends on one’s success,and it was with solemnity, that early in the morning we selected and saddled our best horses, sharpened our hunting knives, slung our rifles, and, followed by, dogs, who knew perfectly well that real earnest sport was meant” Lady Florence Dixie 1879”Looking up the valley. We saw a dark mass moving slowly toward us. Presently it came nearer, and Gregorio, looking at it closely for a moment, said excitedly ” that’s not Indians but a herd of wild horses; we had better look out for our own!”. An extraordinary commotion was indeed visible among our animals.”
”Suddenly we were startled by a rushing sound behind us, and in another instant, making the air shake as it went and almost touching me with the tip of its mighty wing, a condor swept past us. Rising with rapid flight up and up, up into the air, we following him with our eyes, till he became a mere speck on the sky … This incident seemed to break the charm that held us silent, and we broke into a chorus of exclamations of praise and wonder as every second some new beauty in the scene before us struck our admiring gaze.”
For more details on Florence Dixie, born a Douglas – riding trips, articles, Royal Geographical lecture proposal, Radio 4 proposal – Dixie and Douglas history in UK and South America contact us.
After renewed interest from clients and friends Bagual is now giving you the opportunity to place bespoke Textile, Arts and Crafts orders. If you are going out yourself we will likewise happy to give advice and point you in quality directions!
We have a real interest in supporting the skilled local artisan and have been commisioning and personally collecting pieces, having things made for many years – very much a life long passion and indeed was the founder´s study background at SOAS, University of London.It will be a personable experience and you´ll just need to call or write to us for us to organise a commission. We will work with you on ideas – and establish exactly what you want and have it made for you. You might be after a a textile piece to use as a throw for a sofa or bedspread. Something to wear maybe or something for a wooden or stone floor.
Arts and textiles for the Horse. Of course this tradition is an ancient old one dating back centuries. Thus finely woven saddle blankets and saddle bags make wonderful household decoration. We can arrange bespoke finely made leather halters, traditionally made saddle blankets, these can sit well over certain bits of furniture in European homes.
Special bagual bombacha riding trouser design. We know and have been using lots of traditional tailors for years. let us know your measurements, what you are looking for and we can help make it happen for you.Partner designers:Beshlie bespoke designs from South Asia. Beshlie sources and makes wonderful fine woollen garments which become favourite travelling companions – a fine balance of elegance and practicality.
Proper patagonian woollen jumpers. We have a lovely artisan lady who obtains the raw wool from source, spins, and knits them. You can have the wools in their natural colours of vaying cream, browns and greys. Or you can have them dyed in rustic pinks, greens and yellows – colour obtained 100 percent from traditional natural dyes using local plant or mineral. All details will be attached to your order.
Argentian and Chilean Ponchios that can be used as useful warm garment – or for throws over sofas, bed covers, picnic rugs and so on. The indigenous designs (eg Mapuche) in these regions are high quality, wonderfully simple at times, yet with an elegance – using natural dyes from local plants and minerals. These pieces travel well and sit wonderfully in european country home.
Asian Arts and CraftsAt our work shop office and home we have a varied and detailed emporium of Asian Arts and Textiles. Drop by for ‘chai’ to visit and get some ideas on what might look good at your house. After sometime away from the Asian continent we are returning this year with projects which will result in annual visits. So we´d be glad to help you find what you are after.
to be continued …
A bit of local history today when Jose showed me the remains of shack with horse, dog and cattle bones on the ground! Locally thought to be the home of a man called Pincol, who was living feral in the woods. Maybe this is actually the famed Englishman Will Greenwood, who Lady Florence Dixie mentions in her book. In the same area that she sighted smoke from a camp fire rising in the distance.James
Today I went for a late sunset ride on Bambi (name aside, actually a pretty tough and swift horse). 10 minutes up the valley from the house, just coming out of the woods into a clearing a mountain lion (puma) crossed in front of us. The mountain lion turned and ran up the hill, then changed his mind and headed down for the lake below. Kicking Bambi on we tried to follow – but she was not so keen, as she is usually running away from them! Big macho puma. Wonderful. Our April safari was particularly abundant with wild life. Besh and I had an amazing condor moment, about 35 all swooping low, hovering in the wind above us. Horses were getting a little spooked. You could almost reach out and touch them, it was extraordinary. Then all the group together we had a family of giant magellanic woodpeckers swoop around us from tree to tree as we were quietly riding through an old forest in Tres Pasos valley. Very special. We had a herd of guanacos, not usually seen just here.JamesWatch a video below of some horses having a very close encounter with a mountain lion (or puma) in a coral.