A Horse Lovers Paradise – The Verona Italy Horse Fair
Being among the 250,000 people in attendance at one of the oldest and largest Horse Fairs in the world, I can attest to the fact that the Verona Italy Horse Fair is, by far, the most amazing horse extravaganza I have ever witnessed! With over 2,000 horses present, almost every breed in the world is represented. The fairgrounds covers over 30 acres consisting of 10 huge warehouse type buildings that each contain one or two large arenas with grandstand seating surrounded by numerous booths and exhibits displaying every type of horse and rider apparel, tack and equipment imaginable.
If you are any type of horse enthusiast, the Verona Horse Fair is definitely the place to see and be seen. Every show and competitive discipline is represented with constantly on-going competitions in numerous arenas from early in the morning to late in the evening all four days of the fair. Competitions range from the Rolex International Show Jumping World Championships to Dressage, Reining, Cutting, Team Penning, Barrel Racing, Drill Team and Carriage Driving.
The historic Verona Horse Fair which has been presented every year since 1850 is the most anticipated annual event for all Europeans involved with horses either for business or pleasure. In this one location horse lovers can feast on an abundant cornucopia of displays, merchandise, associations, demonstrations, exhibits and competitions.
Each of the four days of the fair I presented horse training, roping and riding demonstrations for the public in several different arena locations. For my demonstrations I used my friend’s good Paint horse, Hidalgo, who looks very much like his movie namesake. Even though there are a wide variety of horses and riders of all cultures, disciplines and costumes present at the Verona Horse Fair, an authentic American cowboy complete with leather bosal, horsehair mecate, McCall saddle, Navaho saddle blanket, lariat rope, fringed chaps, vest, scarf and hat mounted on a paint horse is still a unique sight that attracted considerable attention as I rode Hidalgo along the streets of the fairgrounds en route to and from my demonstration venues.
Along with my demonstrations, my friend from Georgia, Deenie McKeever and I also presented demonstrations of the McKeevers First Ride events which are designed to introduce amputees to horses and riding. For these demonstrations arrangements had been made to have amputees present to ride Hidalgo as Deenie explained to the audience the amazing emotional healing power of the spirit of the horse and encouraged amputees to become involved with horses and riding.
Even if you spend all four days at the fair from early to late each day it is still hard to see it all. There is something for everyone including instructional clinics by world renowned trainers, competitors and clinicians.
Even though I was quite busy presenting my demonstrations during the fair, I did find time to watch some of the other events. Among my favorite were the Buterri (the Italian cowboy) dressed in their traditional wardrobe of riding breeches, tall boots, vests, ties and blazers topped by their short brimmed fedora. Riding their Maremmani horses that have been bred for cattle work for centuries, saddled with their large, comfortable high pommel and cantle working saddles and carrying their traditional stock stick, they work together in unison to herd young horses or cattle.
I also greatly enjoyed seeing the beautiful Iberian Horse demonstrations with expert Spanish equestrians displaying the graceful and athletic Andalusian and Lusitano horses as they showed off their elegant, upper level classical dressage and airs-above-the-ground movements. This is truly art in motion at the highest level.
A favorite of mine and also of thousands of spectators crowding the standing-room-only streets of the fairgrounds was the carriage parade. Every imaginable cart, wagon and carriage could be seen from the simple, traditional wooden wheel working cart pulled by a single heavy draft pony to the beautifully appointed, tall, fancy, polished black, town coach pulled by a magnificent team of six huge, jet black Friesians with feathered fetlocks flying! Many of the carts and carriages were decorated in the traditional and ancient style of bright painted colors, flowers and lanterns pulled by horses adorned with large feathered plumes. From the varying sizes of bells attached to the horse’s harness a symphony of chimes and tones filled the air as the horses trotted proudly along the streets jammed with cheering throngs of people.
Topping off the fair was the Saturday night Gala Performance in the main arena. As special guests of the fair, we were privileged to have VIP tickets to the gala which afforded us a front row table with a delicious meal of traditional Italian cuisine and wine graciously served on a white tablecloth with fine china and crystal. It was all first class and definitely the best way to enjoy the spectacular performance. As the extravagant show began, enhanced by special effects, lighting and music we were thrilled to see the best of the week’s demonstrations by the Buterri, the Spanish Classical Riders, Dressage, Jumping, Western Riding and the Parade of Carriages complete with drivers and passengers “dressed to the nines” with beautiful women in ball gowns and handsome men in tails and top hats. All the magnificent carriages trotting together in a synchronized pattern were definitely a sight to see!
A highlight of the evening was a special performance by a professional ballet troupe dancing in the arena as Classical Dressage riders performed exquisite Grand Prix movements on beautiful long-maned Iberian horses gliding gracefully among the dancers.
The grand finale’ was a thrilling carousel military drill performance by 120 top riders of the Rome Carabinieri, mounted police unit. In full dress uniform mounted on their well-trained Lipizzaner horses they were truly a spectacular sight as they galloped in perfect formation in patterns around the arena. With rousing military march music filling the air and horses and riders sweeping by in a blur of shining sabers and leather, you could not help but think of the awesome cavalry charges in famous battles of bygone centuries that fill the history of this long-standing Roman cavalry regiment.
I am honored to have spent time in Rome with the Carabinieri last year as I conducted a horse training clinic for their officers and horses at their beautiful facility. The Major of the regiment and I became friends and I am scheduled to conduct another clinic for them in the near future.
I would like to thank Mauro Testarella, president of ENGEA, a large national equestrian organization, for inviting me to present demonstrations at the Verona Horse Fair. Also I would like to thank Adina Finzi for the use of her great horse, Hidalgo. Special thanks to my friend and manager, Franco Barbagallo for his many hours of work handling the multitude of details, arrangements and logistics of organizing my appearances, demonstrations and clinics at the fair and throughout Italy during my clinic tours.
If you are ever able to be in Italy in November, be sure and schedule a visit to the northern city of Verona during the Horse Fair. While you are there you should definitely have an extra day or so to tour the beautiful city. Italian friends of ours gave us a very enjoyable walking tour of the narrow streets and beautiful buildings and artwork of the city. Located in its central square and built centuries ago, Verona features a ¾ size replica of the Coliseum of Rome. It is well preserved and still in operation as a location for plays, concerts and other cultural events.
As you may know, Verona was the inspiration of Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet. The legendary courtyard balcony of Juliet may be visited along with seeing her bronze statue in the courtyard. Legend has it that if you touch the statue’s left breast while you make a wish having to do with your love life that the wish will come true. Of course I had to do this! Even though it is a “chick flick”, I did watch the movie “Letters to Juliet” before going to Verona and I was glad I did because it was fun seeing the courtyard and the nearby street scenes that were featured in the movie.
For an unforgettable and wonderful experience, I highly recommend a visit to Verona, Italy during the Horse Fair. It is truly a horse lover’s paradise!
Ed Dabney is an internationally acclaimed clinician, presenting horsemanship and riding clinics all over the US and in Europe. Ed's blending of natural horsemanship and classical equitation has made an indelible mark with students, drawing the attention of serious riders searching for the lightest touch and the deepest connection with their horses. Ed has conducted clinics and training for the King of Sweden’s Royal Mounted Palace Guard in Stockholm Sweden, the Mounted Forest Guard of Sicily, and mounted police units in Rome Italy, Malmo Sweden and Atlanta, Georgia. Ed was honored to have been selected by the University of Georgia to teach their senior level Young Horse Training course. In 2007, Ed was named Champion of the East Coast Trainer Challenge Series by Equine Extravaganza. Ed has produced a series of instructional DVDs. His television show, "Ed Dabney Gentle Horsemanship" has been broadcast on nationwide television networks and his training articles have been published in numerous renowned magazines in the US, Italy and Sweden.