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Appleby Horse Fair

Updated on December 28, 2013

Appleby Horse Fair is the largest and most well known equestrian market anywhere in the world. It takes place every year and attracts the real life gypsies and traellers that are seen on programmes like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

Every year more than 10,000 gypsies and travellers plus up to 30,000 visitors descend on the small town of Appleby-in-Westmorland in Cumbria, Northern England. The atmosphere and some of the scenes from the market are stunning.

Many young gypsy girls and lads use the event as a way to meet up with old family members and friends. The older generations of travellers can also be seen at the fair. Many race their horses and carts through the streets.

The horse fair is also one of the longest running in the world - even older than the well-known Smithfield horse market in Dublin, Ireland.

However, Appleby horse market has also attracted lots of controversy. There have been many fights and crimes break out during the event each Summer.

Appleby horse fair: Ponies cool off in the river
Appleby horse fair: Ponies cool off in the river

History of Appleby horse fair

Traders and gypsies starting to use the area for the annual horse fare every year in early June when King James II granted a royal charter for the area to be used as horse fair in 1685.

Travellers and gypsies from the North took advantage of this and held annual sales in the picaresque town which has a population of little more than 2,500 people.

Now, in the present day, old and young generations of the Romany gypsy and travelling community attend the fair each year. Thousands of caravans park on land outside the town a couple of days before the weekend and stay for up to one week.

A field called Gallows Hill - so called because public hangings were once done there - is one of the places where horses are sold. Thousands of other horses and ponies are tethered to posts, fences, street signs and trees in the town and surrounding areas during the fair.

One of the highlights of the fair is watching horses being washed and ridden in the River Eden which runs through the town.

This was the original area that James II granted the charter for. The temperatures are often so hot during the fair that the cool shallow waters of the river are very appealing to both the horses and riders.

Crowds of hundreds of people gather on banks either side of the river to watch as the animals and their owners swim in the river. The feature is also popular with local photographers who like to capture the unique scenes.

Splash: Horse fair girl gets wet in the river
Splash: Horse fair girl gets wet in the river

The gypsy culture is also celebrated at the fain in other ways. Pony and traps are raced along the main street through the town. This is an exciting and fast-paced event to watch. Traditional gypsy caravans with their ornate painted decorations are also displayed on the roads. In addition to this there is also traditional gypsy music performed and lots of socialising and drinking in the local pubs.

Unfortunately, local police Cumbria Constabulary have restricted some of the enjoyment that can be had by the gypsy community at the fair. There are several riot vans used to police the event and dozens more police on foot and a number more on horseback (these horses are actually the most attractive, well treated and almost perfectly trained out of the entire fare). The police response to incidents of crime at the fair has been to adopt a heavy-handed, zero-tolerance and authoritarian approach to the event. There have been many scenes, particularly at the recent fair in 2010, where police have actually causedproblems by their over-zealous rules. For example, a number of witnesses saw a police officer ordering a pony and trap to be moved from outside a pub which the landlady had herself authorised to park there and did not want to be moved. This caused annoyance among the travellers but the police continued with their treatment.

There have also been increased efforts from the RSPCA to tackle the poor treatment of animals at the fair. They have clamped down on birds, dogs and equines being sold illegally. Although some of the equines are not world class horse-flesh the levels of neglect are not as bad as other international horse fairs including the cruelty at Smithfield in Dublin.

There have also been attempts by the local council to provide education on horse welfare to those taking part in the fair. The project is called 'Education on the hoof' and provides talks about the gypsy culture and stories for young children.

Starting early: A toddler mounts a horse without a saddle
Starting early: A toddler mounts a horse without a saddle

Although police have tried to control the fair, they have also allowed traditional parts of it such as the pony racing to continue. The fair has therefor remained a large and thriving event. It still retains some of its traditional gypsy atmosphere and provides a chance for members of the travelling community to meet old friends. A website has even been set up for the fair although it's unlikely that many travellers use it.

The fair is well worth visiting for anybody who is interested in horses or gypsy culture. There are a number of B&Bs to stay at and there are also organised trips to the fair. Please see the panel to the right for recommended accommodation and trips.

If you can't make it in person to the fair then don't worry as there are plenty of pictures, videos and accounts of the fair on the Internet.



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      katiemine 5 years ago

      The horses look wonderful !! i took a heap of pics on my iphone i used an app called -

      " uteach toddler " , now can enjoy the pictures all the time, my little child is also learning the different horses !

    • profile image 5 years ago

      the abuse of police councils courts against travlers is recialy motivated and sectairian against all irish and catholics

    • profile image

      Mark 5 years ago

      Nearly that time of year again....

      As a local i'm locking up the house and going on holiday, far, far away. The mess the gypsies leave behind every year is something else. I don't mind what they do with horses but god, pick up your rubbish rather than disrespecting this usually quiet, pleasant town.

    • profile image

      natalie 6 years ago

      This should be stopped. The amount of cruelty that goes to the horses is so sad. Gypsies should not be allowed to have horses. I saw a horse collapse and die today from racing. It was only 2yrs old these bastards should all be shot.

    • profile image

      colleen 6 years ago


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      Lorrie 6 years ago

      When is the fair scheduled for 2012?

    • profile image

      katy 6 years ago

      hi has anyone ever bought a horse from appleby horse fair?

    • profile image

      jimbob 6 years ago

      i think in is disgutsting

    • profile image

      blablabla 6 years ago

      hi ive been to appleby before and the horses are lovely im a gypsy and proud of the horses for our reputation looool :) !!!

    • Rickrideshorses profile image

      Rickrideshorses 7 years ago from England

      Yes, they're very pretty when they're all done up properly. Thanks, Gayle.

    • CornerStone51 profile image

      CornerStone51 7 years ago from Mifflintown, PA

      I have become empassioned about the Gypsy Vanner horses. They are such magical, gorgeous creatures. I enjoyed your hub. Thanks for sharing.


    • Rickrideshorses profile image

      Rickrideshorses 7 years ago from England

      There are two sides to horse fairs: the romantic side and sometimes the reality! Thanks for the comment plain0me63 and good luck getting to know the site!

    • profile image

      plain0me63 7 years ago

      i'm new to the site and still fumbling my way around but ive read a cpl of ur articles on the horse fairs. fascinating.. yet sad too.