27 September, 2010

Of young horses and old traditions.

The pinkish purple heather is in full bloom, and in places it transforms the ground into an airy, rosy sea. Out and about in that curiously limpid light of autumn, we've been busy foraging for mushrooms in the heather, fields and forests. The nights and early mornings have significantly chilled.At the market, the squash and pumpkin are for sale, alongside the last of the summer harvest. With the change in season come the fall traditions of the Cevennes. We were charmed to be invited to a neighbor's ferrade: fresh air, lots of eating and drinking, just as much socializing, and horses--what's not to love? The horses in question are Camarguaises, the famously hardy white breed that run wild (in now significantly reduced numbers) across the pink flamingo-flecked Camargue marshes. We said yes without hesitation, knowing the lovely people who were so kindly inviting us, and not really thinking through the activity around which the whole ferrade is built: the hot branding of horses.Branding has been practiced since at least the time of the Egyptians to identify (free-ranging) hores and prevent horse theft. Unfortunately, as one might imagine, it causes a good deal of stress and pain to the horse. Camargue horses are born very dark, and only turn white as they mature. The colts we saw, about six months old, were separated from their mothers for the first time in order to perform the branding, which involved one burn on the rear haunch, and a smaller one on the neck. The colts appear dazed and shocked after the brand is applied and the disinfectant dabbed in the wound. The brand, applied correctly, causes a superficial burn and permanently removes the hair.Having been invited for the occasion, I didn't feel it would be either fruitful or appropriate to embark on a discussion about the morality of hot-branding--or the possible alternatives. While hot-branding has recently been made illegal by the Scottish parliament, it is still in rather wide use in Latin and North American horse country, as well in Australia and other countries. The ban in Scotland was widely supported by animal welfare groups, unsurprisingly, but also by veterinary groups, who found the practice causes undue distress and pain. I am planning on asking our neighbor about his views on the increasingly popular freeze-branding, which is just as effective, low-cost, causes little to no pain, and as such can be administered by a single person. I hope to report back a change of approach for next season's foals...


  1. Wow, good luck with your quest. I hope they won't brand you an interfering (foreign) do-gooder!

    You know what it's like with traditions 'eh we've always dunnit like that and we don't see no reason to change...'

    The rest of the traditional get-together sounds fun though! :)

  2. He he, Sarah, I'm already clearly branded a foreigner! The hosts were extremely gracious, and they have traveled a bit. It may not be mission impossible. I'll give it my best shot, and we'll see...


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