Horses out on bail
by Oriana Kraemer
It was more by chance that I happened to walk by Smithfield horse fair today and only afterwards did I read about the new regulation: In January this year by-laws were passed to limit the controversial horse market to twice a year, one in March (today) and one in September, with tightened regulations for trading licences, under age participants and animal welfare. Without knowing it, I might have taken some pictures of historical value last year – Is this the end of the urban cowboy?
This fundamental change in regulations probably explains the hype around the market today. I’ve never seen so many photographers and journalists around. Even a film team was present to shoot a movie. It seems the market has more and more evolved to a public festivity or touristic event (probably the only chance for survival after the shootings last year). According to RTÉ, a new sub-committee comprising horse owners, councillors, DSPCA (Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and local interests will look at ways of promoting the fair, and many things seem to be happening already: There was a band playing Irish traditional music today, a photography exhibition about the horse market in one of the empty shop buildings looking out onto the square and even a library on wheels was present.
At the same time the amount of security must have tripled in comparison to last year. Not only Gardaí (Irish police) but also civic defence were observing the fair, which is completely fenced off since 2012. Checkpoints were put up on all the major crossings in the district, to check horse licences and legitimation of vendors.
I think this restriction as opposed to complete closure is a good opportunity to take a closer look at the value and potential of the market now. Exhibitions as the one today are a nice way to accompany and inform about the fair in the future. However I fear the market has bought its new legitimation for the sake of its peculiar spontaneous character that was quite unique in this part of the world! Although tourists might help to promote its existence I would hate Smithfield Horse Fair to become a show event with souvenir stands.