During the Easter break 2001 we travelled to the Languedoc region in the south of France to prepare for an exchange visit by some pupils from the Ecole Internationale Eridan who had made a link with Greatworth Primary School. As they were planning to be with us during the Banbury Hobby Horse Festival we thought a useful joint undertaking would be to design and build a hobby horse to a French pattern thus bringing something of an international flavour to the gathering.
Guidebooks to the area suggested that 'les animaux totemiques' were a relatively common feature of an area of the Languedoc to the west of Montpellier. We were able to find references to 'Le Loup (wolf) de Loupian', Le Boeuf (bull) de Meze and Le Poulain (foal) de Pezenas. Following phone calls to local tourist information offices and bars we were able to arrange to meet with Christian Peveres, the secretary of the group responsible for Le Poulain. After meeting him at home we were able to climb into his car and wind our way through the back streets of the town until in a lock up garage in the Rue Bareme we came face to face... well face to rump actually, with the beast itself.
Sharing the garage was another Poulain from a neighbouring village which had been partially stripped down so we were able to see more of the method of construction using bent wooden laths. The Pezenas Poulain was rather more high-tech with a frame made of strips of aluminium bolted together which could be taken apart for transporting the creature.
The head of the Poulain is realistically modelled and fastened to a long pole so that it can reach up as far as first floor windows. the pole rests on a bracket with a roller bearing to facilitate ease of movement. As well as the 'strong man' wielding the head there are eight others underneath the frame which is covered with a heavy blue cloth painted with gold stars. panels of a thick mesh like plastic material are set into the front sections to allow the operators to see out.
The Poulain is paraded around the streets every Shrove Tuesday and on the first Sunday in July as well as making occasional trips to other local festivals. It is said to commemorate the birth of a foal to the favourite mare of King Louis VIII which happened to be stabled in the town in 1226.
The procession is accompanied by musicians playing fifes and drums and other carnival characters. On top of the beast ride two mannikins, in the front a woman in a white dress, blue shawl and a head scarf and behind her a male figure in formal black coat and top hat!
The procession moves along at a march pace and the Poulain is led along by its handler swaying from side to side as its porters kick out to the side. Occasionaly it follows a serpentine path, spins round , or pretends to drink from a proferred bucket then sprays the audience with water. From time to time the music changes and the beast performs a "rigodon" in which it appears to jump in the air.
To see the French style beast built here in England as a Result of the trip go to