I must admit my favorite part of the ornate harnesses of the horses at the St. Alfio festival in Sicily is the plumage. The plumes on these horses reach epic proportions, and are unlike anything I've seen elsewhere. They are simply spectacular!
Al Zammataro wins the award for biggest fan of Global Horse Culture! Last year he sent me some snapshots from an incredible festival in Sicily, where spectacularly-adorned horses and carts are paraded in celebration of St. Alfio's festival day.
This year, he sent me more photos - taken by a friend of his - with even more detail of the costumes, harnesses, plumes and elaborate carts. There are even puppets acting out legendary battle scenes mounted on the horses!
It's interesting to see which breeds of horses were widely known in past times. Looking at show programs or books about horse breeds from past decades (or centuries) reveals which breeds were popular or recognized then, and it's often quite different from today.
The map pictured was issued in 1934.
The breeds described are (from bottom center, moving clockwise):
This website has a section about the horse show at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. It's interesting to see what breeds of horses were popular then, and how they were presented. This comment about the Morgan horse class caught my eye: "There were all different
shapes, sizes, and colors of Morgans present at the fair. Some fair
exhibitors preferred the neat and trappy step. Others preferred
Morgans having the trot more straddled out
like an old fashioned Wilkes trotter. Short legs and long legs were jumbled
together and it created confusion in the show ring." I like seeing the photos of the breeds in times past - often they change quite a bit over the decades, sometimes they change very little. Other breeds featured included Roadsters and German Coach Horses. Take a look!
Here's a cool website with a very complete listing of Italian horse breeds. The breeds are listed in the menu on the left side. Clicking each will give you a description (in Italian, of course) [update: a reader points out this listing is now available in english at this link] and photos (usually towards the bottom of the page). There is quite a diversity, from mountain ponies to saddle horses and draft horses. Many of the saddle horses derive from combinations of Iberian, Arabian and Thoroughbred blood. Worth a browse, even if you don't speak Italian.