Portrait of a Place: Bestas – NOWNESS

Each summer in the Galician town of Sabucedo, the young people of this rural parish take part in a tradition known as Rapas des Bestas—a festival, dating back 450 years, in which participants cut the manes of wild horses. The aloitadores, those responsible for restraining the horses while the cutting takes place, do so without ropes or sticks; relying on skills learned from an early age, and based on techniques passed down by the generations preceding them.

In order to capture this unique and historically authentic tradition, London-based directorial duo Jose Otero and Louis Ellison (together forming Verso Films) struck out into the woodlands of Northern Spain, in search of one of Europe’s oldest equestrian celebrations and the people who keep its flame alive.

In Sabucedo, the mane cutting takes place in a masonry ‘curro’, or enclosure. The festival has a rich ritual element, which has attracted the interests of anthropologists and tourists for generations. The wild horses are said to belong to St. Lawrence, to whom the town commends itself at a special dawn mass —marking the beginning of the festivities. Locals and visitors subsequently head out into the surrounding woodland, searching for horses that they then lead and encourage into the curro.

“Neither ropes, sticks or any other instruments are used to subdue the horses,” explain the directorial duo. “Across more than 200km of hillside, more than six hundred horses roam freely in fourteen droves, referred to in Galician as bestas (mares) and garañones (stallions). The festival involves bringing the horses down from the hillside, gathering them into an enclosure, cutting their manes and tails and tagging them. ” Today, this is done with a microchip rather than a brand.

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