S’Ardia of Sedilo, an act of faith and passion on horseback
“For me running S’Ardia is an act of faith towards St. Constantine and love for horses,” told me Matteo, one of the top-notch horseback riders that every year, July 6th and 7th, dart down one of the most dangerous paths in Sardinia, the big Italian island facing Tuscany’s coast.
In Sedilo, Italy, the horses are the stars during the festival
Along with the riders, the stars of the days are without doubt the horses. Brown, black and white horses, trotting solemnly aware of their dashing form, they are just about tamed.
This is a religious festival, but every year Sedilo makes the whole region talk more due to the dangers of the equestrian path bristled with pitfalls than for the actual celebrations.
Adrenaline, people’s friendliness, blazing heat and the smell of horses and dust make this an unmissable occasion for anyone traveling to Sardinia in July.
The horseback rider is chosen by Sedilo’s parish
The leader of the race is called Sa Prima Pandela, which literally means The First Flag, and embodies St. Constantine in a legendary battle he undertook (and won) to protect the village. The horseback rider is chosen by Sedilo’s parish who also appoints his “generals,” Sa Segunda Pandela and Sa Terza Pandela (respectively, the second and the third flag).
His stint is to bring the flag to the tiny sanctuary on top of the hill without letting the swarm of 80 plus horsemen overcome him. To help him remain the first during the entire horse race, there are his three “escorts”, armed with baton and full license to beat up whoever is too arrogant to challenge the “emperor.”
The day starts in Piazza di Chiesa (Church Square), where the parish gives the horseback riders his blessing and officially kicks off the celebrations. Announced by a group of riflemen and the local folk-music band, riders and horses parade along the main street of the small village in the heart of the island, and slowly reach the starting point of the race around 7 p.m.
Accidents happen on this type of horseback riding vacation
Thousands of spectators wait since early afternoon, under the burning sun of Sardinian summer, with a mixed feeling of excitement and hope that the race will end with no-one injured. Unfortunately, accidents are common, and during the seemingly never-ending minutes of the horse race, friends and family members hold their breath to ward off the possibility of bad news.
Two years ago, one of the horseback riders fell off the horse right at the beginning of the race and died that night at the hospital. After this accident, the government imposed stricter security measures, among endless protests coming from both equestrians and village-people.
“We are not asking anybody to understand,” told me Matteo, protecting his beloved horseback riding tradition. “We are fully aware of the danger of the route, that’s why we train – for our own and the other riders’ safety.”
Have you gone on a horseback riding vacation in Italy? What are your favorite things to do in Oristano, Italy?
If you go:
Lichitu Bed and Breakfast
Phone: +39 (0)785 59306
Address: Via Sant’Elena, 5, 09076 Sedilo, OR
Due to the high number of spectators, it’s recommended to book this unique horseback riding vacation at least a month in advance in order to see the race on July the 6th.
Angela Corrias is a freelance Italian journalist. She specializes in travel writing with the aim to combine her passion for traveling with socially aware writing. She regularly updates her travel blog www.travelcalling.blogspot.com. Photos courtesy of Angela Corrias.