Unusual traffic

Every now and then, as I go about daily life, I’m reminded anew that I don’t live in the US anymore. That happened this morning while I was driving home from my Pilates class, and got caught in traffic behind two horses.

I love that horses are still traffic here. Sometimes it’s a horse-drawn cart. Sometimes it’s a pair of friends riding their horses down the street. Sometimes it’s a mounted GNR (police) clopping straight down the traffic lane. All of them are considered normal traffic and need not get out of the way of the bigger, faster cars (which is wonderfully civilized to my mind). In fact, whenever this happens I tend to see drivers behaving very considerately, driving slowly behind the horses and giving a great deal of comfort space when they pass.

Not too long ago, I was caught behind three people riding their horses down the main avenue of the city. It’s a boulevard, with one traffic lane in each direction separated by a tree-lined pedestrian walkway in the center, and neither lane has much driving room due to the (always jammed) parking spaces on either side. So when you add three horses to the lane, it doesn’t matter if they’re riding off to the side. It’s still impossible to pass. Cars stacked up behind me as far as I could see, but there wasn’t a single horn to be heard. Nobody complained. Everyone just waited until the horses finally arrived at a roundabout, at which point there was room for the cars to get by. And when all of those pent-up drivers were able to pass, they didn’t honk or rev their engines, or even send visual one-fingered messages out the window. They just passed quietly and went on their way.

That kind of thing never fails to make my day.

This evening, while running an errand out of town, I drove down a narrow street in our neighborhood and saw a horse tied up to a lamppost outside a café. All the way out of town, I was smiling.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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9 Responses to Unusual traffic

  1. Inge says:

    I do not know about Portugal, but here there is a law about it:
    In dutch:
    Elke bestuurder moet vertragen wanneer hij trek-, last- en rijdieren of vee op de openbare weg nadert. Hij moet stoppen indien deze dieren tekenen van angst vertonen.

    In English (more or less): Every driver has to slow down when a pulling, carrying or driven animal is on the public road. He has to stop when the animal is showing signs of fear.

    Also a horseman/woman is considered a weak participant on the road (as are walkers, bikers,..) so they get special protection. This means that someone who drives a motorised vehicle with at least 4 wheels always has to pay for all medical damages in case of an accident. (the reasoning being that because you decided to use a car (heavier than the weak participants) the damage will always be more significant than an accident between two equals. So you have to pay up for that risk you took. (it’s a bit short in explanation, it is a bit more complicated, but this is the gist of it))

    Anyway.. al that to say that i recognise the behaviour you noticed very well. 🙂

    • oregon expat says:

      Wait, so the one capable of causing the most damage is incentivized by law to be more careful? How…extraordinarily sensible.

      Where I come from, when a car illegally turns in front of a bicyclist (or motorcyclist) and smashes the rider to a bloody pulp, the first thing anybody asks is, “Well, was the rider wearing a helmet?” Because if she wasn’t, then all of the blame can immediately be piled on her.

      I like your law.

      • Inge says:

        Most car drivers still agree with what you said. However politicians pushed it through and now slowly it gets accepted as a rule, however much the drivers still don’t get it. If you’re not at fault, you shouldn’t pay is what they claim. They tend to ignore that their bigger vehicle is part of the gravity of the accident. Luckily our justice-system gets it.

  2. João Brandão says:

    with all the austerity measures, maybe horses will make a comeback. Or not… they not exactly cheap to buy or keep alive and well fed, and sheltered.

    Anyway, that must be a “thing” down there. I haven’t seen a horse in the city here, for ages. Maybe when there’s an official celebration of sorts, and the GNR brings a couple of their horses.

    • oregon expat says:

      No, I don’t imagine it would be too common in any of Portugal’s big cities, unless there happen to be horse stables dotted around the metropolitan area.

      Wonder how much horse feed one could purchase for the equivalent of a tank of petrol?

      • M. says:

        I don’t think feeding a horse is expensive. No more than feeding a dog (of course not a tiny one :D)
        Let’s see: a recreational horse eats about 4-6 kg of oats and 6-7 kg of hay a day. Of course there are additions, like vitamins or a carrot here and there, but a car needs something more than petrol too, so let’s forget about additions. Now, the price of horse food is counted in tons (1000 kg). In my place a ton of oat is about 650 PLN and a ton of hay is about 150 PLN. Although one may consider if hay should be counted. Unlike a car’s…excretions, horse’s manure is… valuable and wanted :D. A horse owner can sell it and buy hay for earned money ;). Anyway, a horse eats daily a food worth 4,25 PLN and as for today 1 litre of petrol costs 5,70 PLN. A 50 litres tank is worth 285 PLN, on which horse can run for 67 days :D. I am not good at math, so I might be wrong somewhere.

        Of course you can’t keep a horse in a garage and forget about it for days – and this is a part that is really expensive and troublesome.

        In general Poles love horses. To a point that they refuse to eat them ;). But you won’t see many horses on streets – with our crazy driving they’re too dangerous for our precious horses. But you can see them often in city parks, where kids can have a short ride.

  3. Jorge says:

    Well, as a fellow algarvian 😉 I may shed some light into how prevalent the practice may be in this neck of the woods. Around here (Portimão), you only see two kinds of people on horseback in the street:

    First, and seen more often, traditional gypsies. Those that are still nomadic and still make a living as they used to in the olden days: trading all sorts of things in fairs and markets, including horses. They do show up with some regulatity in trafficky places, stressing the traffic further (especially near the hospital, if a family member is ill). But it’s not a good idea to act like a scumbag towards gypsies: they tend to have laaarge families and they do retaliate. Usually with the entire clan.

    Second, riding adepts that come from one riding club or another. We have at least one a few miles from town: the Centro Hípico de Belmonte. These appear sometimes all dressed up in riding gear, with boots, tight pants, round hats and all, but they don’t usually show up in heavy traffic roads and streets. You stumble upon them in secondary roads, mostly, so there’s not much stress involved in such encounters.

    That’s how things go where I live. Dunno about Loulé. It’s just 60 km or so away, but in some ways it’s a whole different world.

    • Jorge says:

      Actually, I just found out there’s three riding centres in the Portimão municipality, no less: Belmonte, the Centro Hípico Vale de Ferro and one Horse Shoe Ranch, which is probably more tourist-oriented than the other two.

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