In the midst of the Goudargues countryside, on the winding road to Verfeuil, aspiring horse riders can stumble into a scene right out of a Western at Vano Stables, owned by a friendly Belgian couple, Christine and Philippe Van Hauw (pronounced "Vano"). While Christine and her granddaughter Adélie are competition-level reining riders and compete all over Europe with their finely bred horses, at home the stables and modern equestrian centre play host to the Gard’s very own El Charro, or traditional Mexican cowboy or horseman, Carlos Barrera.
Inviting wannabe cowboys and cowgirls to learn his impressive tricks of the trade, the tri-lingual Barrera learnt his skills from his father and grandfather in Mexico City. Having started his career in France at Paris Disneyland at just 18 years old, Carlos has since added notches to his well-worn cowhide belt, teaching Western-style horse-riding across France, and dominating the French rodeo scene.
In total, Carlos has ridden in more than 500 Western shows across Belgium, Poland, Italy and France, including the EquiBlues Rodeo in Saint-Agrève, Ardèche, which attracts 25,000 people for a week-long immersion in cowboy and cowgirl life in mid-August. Not bad for a young man of 32!
Now the figurehead of the family business, accompanied by British wife Rachel (who handles PR and communications for El Charro events and all collaborations with Vano Stables) and mini-me prodigy, four-year-old Carlitos Barrera, Carlos offers a range of Western techniques for both novice and leisure riders right up to national-level competitors. Those interested in spectacle can go and watch, or participate in working cattle, rodeo, barrel or roping exercises, or hone their horsemanship skills through traditions such as dressage at the stables.
With 14 hectares of farm land and a purpose-built all-wood equestrian facility for training and events, a covered arena of 2700m² and sixteen 12m² horse boxes where the horses rest, plus showers and a solarium, riders can enjoy being in the great outdoors, yet are not too far from a cold beer or hot tea in the platformed restaurant overlooking the arena. Guests can even stay on site, as the Van Hauws also rent villas, guest houses and cottages year-round.
The origin of the Western style of horse riding, dating back to America’s Wild West in the 19th century, is a little misleading - at least in its namesake, as the form of riding encouraged by the Barreras and the proprietors at Vano Stables is anything but wild. Rather it is kind to both horse and rider - a horse-riding discipline that allows the horse’s character to emerge in a controlled manner, without force. It is about finding the rider’s complicity with, and understanding of, the horse through psychological work between rider and horse - a far cry from the idea of dominating and controlling the horse by the bit.
With lessons and courses taught in French, English or Spanish, Vano Stables prides itself on being an international multi-language centre for riding, open to all levels and ages.
"We are open to anyone, at any level, and if there’s something someone wants to try, there’s a spot and a horse for them here as well," says Carlos. Peering out from under his wide-brimmed cowboy hat, Carlos emphasises security and safety in all that he does. "I’m delighted to have the opportunity to bring a bit of America to the south of France, and to have this chance to partner with the Van Hauws. We’re aligned in our love of horses, equestrian sports, and our desire to create a happy, yet safe and controlled environment for all our clients."
Individuals, families, groups, companies seeking corporate events and team-building exercises, and charities, both local and foreign, are all welcome to push open the Vano Stables’ doors and request an event or course — certain to impress, and help you enjoy and discover horses the Western way.
El Charro events at Vano Stables Toupian, 30630 Goudargues
Tel: 06 52 22 74 58
Find us on Facebook
El Charro at Vano Stables