Rapa das Bestas: A Tradition of Man, Beast, and Nature in Galicia, Spain


In the lush, rolling hills of Galicia, Spain, a centuries-old tradition takes place each year that is as much a celebration of human and animal connection as it is a testament to the region’s rich cultural heritage. Known as "Rapa das Bestas" or "Shaving of the Beasts," it is a powerful connection to the past, a display of human courage, and a testament to the enduring bond between man and nature. We had the opportunity to visit the festival and participate in it with our partner in Galicia, an incredible opportunity and an experience we will never forget!

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Catching wild horses in the corral, with a rope halter on a stick, traditional in this area of Galicia
Catching wild horses in the corral, with a rope halter on a stick, traditional in this area of Galicia

The Origins and Significance of Rapa das Bestas

The origins of Rapa das Bestas date back to at least the 16th century, though some historians believe it could be even older. This event is held and celebrated throughout Galicia. Traditionally, it was a way for villagers to manage the wild horse population that roams the mountainous terrain. By capturing, grooming and treating the horses, they not only maintained control over the herd but also ensured the health and well-being of the animals.

Wild horse running free after being caught for the Rapa Das Bestas
Wild horses being released one by one after treatment

Ancient petroglyphs in the area, displaying a horse. There are lots of petroglyphs in this area, and some seem to even display the horses being driven into a corral, making it likely that this tradition dates back to way before the 16th century. There is a figure of a human mounted on a horse which demonstrates the horsemanship of these animals from over 5000 years ago, coinciding with the domestication of the horse in the mountains of central Asia around the same dates!

Petroglyph of a horse in Galicia
Just one of the many petroglyphs in the area

The event also fosters a strong sense of camaraderie and unity. Villagers work together in an effort to ensure the safety and well-being of the horses, and the communal aspect extends to the festivities that accompany the main event. Music, dance, and good food are important parts of the celebration, highlighting the joyous and festive atmosphere of the festival.

Man riding horse bareback through a field by the ocean
Getting our horses ready to participate in the Rapa das Bestas

The Dawn of the Festival

On Sunday, the morning air is pierced with the sound of fireworks, signalling the start of a day that blends tradition, community, and respect for nature and animals. The explosions serve a vital purpose in moving the wild horses from the mountains to the corrals. The sound spooks them, and the riders in the mountain drive the herds of wild horses to the corrals.

White horse and rider on a trail in the forest in a mountain
Riding through the forest while the fireworks go off, ready to drive the horses to the corrals

Once the wild horses are in the corrals

Once the horses are in the big corrals, all the people at the festival admire the horses while having a few drinks, and some good food. The horses graze in the large area. After an hour or two, the horses are driven into the smaller corral. Then, the foals are separated so they are safe from the adult horses running in the corral while they are being caught.

Men walking with a wild foal in a corral full of horses
Separating the foals, for a short time only, while the adults are treated

Catching the wild horses for treatment

After the horses have been caught with the traditional method, which is a rope halter on a stick, they are dewormed and sprayed for ticks and flies, ensuring their health before they are released back into the wild. The young horses are also branded and/or microchipped, and the manes and tails are cut. The horses are then released back into the wild, symbolising a return to freedom after their brief encounter with human hands. This short encounter with humans, just once a year, is necessary and extremely important to their health and the general wellbeing of these horses. By means of the Rapa das Bestas, the Galician horse breed has been preserved for ages already, and will be preserved for a very long time to come.

Wild horse being sprayed against ticks, and getting groomed

The Ecological Benefits of Wild Horses

Beyond its cultural significance, the Rapa das Bestas plays a crucial role in environmental stewardship. Maintaining the population of wild horses in Galicia has many, important ecological benefits.

Promoting Biodiversity
By grazing in the mountains, wild horses help control the excessive growth of plants and shrubs, promoting a diverse ecosystem.

Reducing Fire Risks
Their consumption of dry vegetation reduces the risk of forest fires, a growing concern in many parts of the world.

Wild foal being caught in a corral full of horses

Enhancing Soil Health
The movement and grazing of wild horses promote soil aeration and nutrient recycling, vital for maintaining healthy, fertile land.

Preventing Invasive Species
By keeping vegetation growth in check, these horses help prevent the spread of non-native plant species, preserving the natural balance of the ecosystem.

Regulating Hydrology
Their presence aids in improving soil water infiltration and reducing surface runoff, which benefits local springs and prevents erosion.

Wild horse being caught in a corral in Galicia
A horse being caught in the traditional way. It takes lots of skill, but once mastered, is a very effective way of catching wild horses

The Immeasurable Value of Natural Beauty

While the benefits of maintaining wild horse populations in Galicia are evident, there is an intangible beauty that these creatures bring to the landscape. The sight of wild horses roaming freely across the Galician mountains is a reminder of nature's majesty and our responsibility to protect it. This festival is a celebration of that beauty, a dance between man and beast that enriches the natural heritage of Galicia.

White Lusitano horse and rider standing on rocks looking our over the ocean in traditional Spanish tack

The Rapa das Bestas is a festival that goes beyond mere tradition. It is a profound expression of cultural heritage, a vital ecological practice, and a celebration of the enduring bond between humans and the wild. Rapa das Bestas is a vivid reminder of the deep connections between humans and nature that have shaped Galicia's cultural landscape. This ancient tradition, with its blend of ritual, community, and spectacle, continues to captivate those who experience it, offering a glimpse into a way of life that honors the past while adapting to the present. Rapa das Bestas undeniably holds a unique and enduring place in the heart of Galician heritage.

If you want to join us on this unique and incredible experience, feel free to contact us directly. The next festival will take place in June 2025.

Young horses on rope halters waiting to be treated
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