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Camargue (horse)

Camargue in Rambouillet Forest (France)
Distinguishing features: Grey horse breed native to Camargue area, traditionally used for cattle work
Country of origin: France
Breed standards
British Camargue Horse Society: Breed standards
Horse (Equus ferus caballus)

The Camargue is an ancient breed of horses found in the Camargue area in southern France. For centuries, possibly thousands of years, these small horses have lived wild in the harsh environment of the Camargue marshes, wetlands of the Rhone delta. They developed the stamina, hardiness and agility for which they are known today. They are the traditional mount of the gardians–the Camargue "cowboys" who herd the black Camargue bulls used in bullfighting in southern France. Camargue horses galloping through water are a popular and romantic image of the region.



Camargue horses are always gray. This means that they have black skin underlying a white hair coat as adult horses. They are born with a hair coat that is black or dark brown in colour, but as they grow to adulthood, their hair coat becomes ever more intermingled with white hairs until it is completely white. They are small horses, generally 13 to 14 hands (52 to 56 inches, 132 to 142 cm). Despite their small size, they have the strength to carry grown men. Rugged and intelligent, they have a short neck, deep chest, compact body, well-jointed, strong limbs and a full mane and tail.


Some researchers believe the Camargue are descended from the ancient Solutré horse hunted during the Upper Paleolithic period. Extensive archeological evidence has been found in the present-day Burgundy region of France.[1][2] The Camargue breed was appreciated by the Celtic and Roman invaders who entered the Iberian Peninsula. Their genealogy is closely tied with Iberian horses, especially those of the northern part of the peninsula. The original Spanish jaca was probably a cross between the Celtic pony and the Camargue. It was later improved by crosses with northern European horse types and ultimately with the southern peninsular horse, as the Moors spread their influence toward the Pyrenees.

As a result, the Camargue genes probably penetrated the Americas through the influence of the jaca, the warhorse taken to new lands where hardiness was a requirement. Breeds such as the Chilean horse and Criollo show signs of some characteristics that are common in the Camargue breed.

A Camargue horse in the marshes of the region.

In 1976, to preserve the standards and purity of the breed, the French government set breed standards and started registering the main breeders of the Camargue horse. In 1978, they set up the breed stud book. To be registered, foals must be born out of doors and must be seen to suckle from a registered mare as proof of parentage. Foals born inside the defined Camargue region are registered sous berceau, while those born elsewhere are registered hors berceau ("outside the cradle" or "birthplace"). They have the heavy, square heads of primitive horses, but the influence of Arabian, Barb and Thoroughbred blood can also be seen. Thegardianslook after the horses, which are rounded up annually for health inspections, branding, and gelding of unsuitable stock.

In England, the only breeding herd is at Valley Farm, in Wickham Market, near Woodbridge, Suffolk. Valley Farm is also the home of the British Camargue Horse Society, which represents the Camargue Breed in Britain by maintaining a stud book for British-bred Camargue Horses and registering ownership of Camargue Horses in Britain.


Their calm temperament, agility, intelligence and stamina has resulted in these horses being used for equestrian games, dressage, and long distance riding, which is growing in popularity in France.

Film portrayal

  • The 1953 children's film Crin-Blanc, known in English by the title White Mane, portrayed the horses and region. Directed by Albert Lamorisse, the black-and-white film won the Jean Vigo prize and the Cannes Film Festival's Grand Prize, both for short film. In late 2007, the film was restored and re-released by Janus Films in limited markets.
  • "Dream of the Wild Horses" ("Le Songe des Chevaux Sauvages") is a landmark short film written & directed by Denys Colomb Daunant also featuring the wild French Camargue horses, 1960. Daunant, as writer, adapted "Crin-Blanc" ("White Mane"), released in 1953 & written & directed by Albert Lamorisse.


  1. Le Musee: "Solutré, Musée Départemental de Préhistoire", Solutre.com, accessed 17 Nov 2009
  2. "Camargue", Oklahoma State University, accessed 17 Nov 2009
  • The Kingdom of the Horse, edited by Caroline Davis. Firefly, 1998.

External links


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