Flowers may be king of the annual Feria de las Flores Flower Festival in Medellin, Colombia but for many Colombians horses are their main passion. This explains why the Cabalgata de la Feria Horse Parade nearly eclipses the event’s marquis Flower Parade. But the popular Horse Parade is not without controversy, as we saw first hand.
High-tailing it to the horse parade
We were so excited to see the famous Flower Festival Horse Parade that we drove as quickly as Colombia’s pretty crappy roads would allow in order to reach Medellin in time for the event. The fact that protesting farmers had shut down the “highway” into Medellin didn’t help matters, but we finally arrived around 10 pm the night before the parade.
The Horse Parade took place on the Autopista four-lane highway which goes through Medellin. More than 7,000 horses filled the street waiting for the start of the event. There were fancy horses and plain horses. Colombian Paso Finos (aka Colombian Criollos) dominated but we spotted a few Quarterhorses too. There were even some mules and donkeys in the mix for good measure.
Horses and riders came from all over the district of Antioquia (of which Medellin is the very, very proud capital). Many of the riders were dressed in Colombian cowboy finery. One must-have accessory was aguardiente, the beloved distilled sugar cane hooch, which was being drunk straight from the bottle or from more traditional botas (leather flasks in the shape of a boot) despite the fact that after years of increasing debauchery and dangerous riding the Horse Parade was supposed to be booze-free.
Controversy and cruelty at the Flower Festival Horse Parade
Aguardiente is not the only source of controversy about the Flower Fair Horse Parade. Opponents argue that the event constitutes animal cruelty with horses traveling long distances by truck and trailer to reach Medellin then spending all day standing and prancing on pavement under the hot sun often ridden by inexperienced (and increasingly drunk) people who’ve simply rented a horse in order to be seen in the parade.
We saw veterinarians on foot throughout the parade route and they were not shy about pulling horses and riders aside if they felt the animal was in danger, in some cases making the rider dismount and taking exhausted or freaked out horses out of the parade route.
Despite the presence of vets, we also saw many very spooked horses (the Colombian Paso Fino breed is naturally high-strung as it is), plenty of inexperienced riders kicking and yanking on horses needlessly, and even drunk riders trying to have fist fights from the saddle. One very, very frightened horse somehow ended up inside a large water trough put out by the vets so horses could stay hydrated. Not good.
Then there are the allegations that sales of tickets to enter special viewing areas for the event have been infiltrated by organized crime…
Cancelling the cabalgata
In light of those sorts of issues and a “lack of support from the city government” (which seem unlikely since the Horse Parade is a revenue generator with each rider paying a hefty entry fee), the horse parade was cancelled for the 2014 Flower Festival marking the first time in 28 years that the event wasn’t held.
An unofficial cabalgata was organized outside the city. Honestly, after what we saw during the Horse Parade in 2013 we think it was a good decision to cancel the event, even after taking into account the popularity of the horse parade and understanding the deeply rooted love that Antioqueños have for their horse back heritage.
The pageantry and pride of the Horse Parade has been overshadowed by bravado and bad behavior. We hope organizers can get the event back to its roots and back on track so that Colombia’s amazing horses, horsemen, and horsewomen can show their stuff safely and sanely in future Flower Festivals.
Fancy prancing from the Flower Festival Horse Parade
Here are more of our shots from the 2013 Flower Festival Horse Parade in Medellin. Don’t miss our video in which you can see some of the natural fancy prancing gait of those Colombian Paso Finos.
Enter the madness, marvel at the high-stepping horses, and try to stay out of the way in our video from the Flower Festival Horse Parade, below.
Do you think the Flower Festival Horse Parade should have been cancelled this year? Let us know your opinion in the comments section below.
Flower Festival Medellin travel tips
Every year the Flower Festival in Medellin brings in thousands of tourists and hotels fill up fast. During last year’s Flower Festival we managed to get a room at 61 Prado Guesthouse and we highly recommend it to any traveler who likes spotlessly clean and comfortable rooms at reasonable rates (US$35 for a private double room with bathroom) in a homey environment just a few blocks from Medellin’s famous metro system.
Here’s more about travel in Colombia