It’s a horsepower-packed feria that lives up to all your expectations of the Merry Month of May. A chance to watch dancing Andalusian purebreed steeds, OD on rebujitos, and flaunt your Sevillanas skills in a flouncy flamenco dress alongside the sherry grandees and equestrian cognoscenti of Jerez.

Jerezanos were born in the saddle and they all get on their high horse for the Feria del Caballo, an equine extravaganza that takes over the city. Every day, from high noon the jacaranda-fringed avenues are a stage for high-stepping stallions and antique carriages filled with sweet señoritas fluttering fans. There’s dressage in the streets, Sevillanas in the sunshine, rumbustious rumbas and gypsy bulerías in the casitas as the night wears on with sherry drinking demanding the staying power of a Grand National winner.

You can tell it’s a thoroughbred gig by the clothes and coiffeurs: chicas in tight bodices and mermaid’s tail skirts, matrons in mantillas and laughing caballeros in wide-brimmed Cordobes hats. Manes are worn plaited – with bells for the horses, ribbons for the girls. There are ruffles and frills, florals and polka dots in every colour of the paint palette, matched to shoes, shawls, handbags, hair combs and the bobbles on the horses’ harnesses. More so on the Wednesday, a Ladies Day all Ascot would take its hat off to.

González Hontoria Park, where they’re all headed, is a cut above your average recinto ferial – a green space the size of Windsor Castle grounds with wide sand-sprinkled avenues and casetas around its perimeter. These pop-up bar/restaurants are run by sherry bodegas, equestrian organisations and neighbourhood flamenco clubs and there’s a prize for the best décor so everyone makes the effort. Unlike Sevilla’s more famous Feria de Abril where they are run as private clubs, Jerez casitas have non-member zones where visitors can eat, drink and enjoy the ambience at reasonable prices instead of having to munch a hotdog on the hoof.

Jerez and the Carthusian – the pure blood prince of Andalusian horses – have been synonymous for half a millennia and the May Horse Fair is nearly as old. Originally a medieval livestock fair like most Spanish ferias, it’s one of the few to hang on to its horse-trading tradition and among the crowds you’ll find horse ranchers, bull breeders and the families of big sherry dynasties like Domecq, Lustau and González Byass all mixing business with pleasure. It’s also a shop window for local produce and this year’s fair is dedicated to the white village of Jabugo in Huelva, whose acorn forests fatten the pigs that make the best jamón iberico in the world.

After dark the horses return to their stables, one million coloured bulbs strung over the park power up and the funfair gets going. The sherry flows more freely, guitar rhythms accelerate and the night air vibrates with the foot-stomping beat of flamenco. Locals say the Jerez fair is what Sevilla’s used to be like before the rest of the world discovered it. But despite being a Fiesta of International Tourist Interest, 95 per cent of visitors are Spanish who come from all over, including Madrid. If you like your ferias authentic, Jerez is the real thing!

The fair runs from May 11-18 and includes sideshows of carriage racing, show jumping, polo, livestock auctions and fireworks. Horses and carriages are in the park daily from 13:00 – 19:30.

Further info,

Casita Crawl

A complete tour will take you round 188 this year! What to Drink: What else but a rebujito – the iconic Feria del Caballo stirrup cup. It’s one part fino to two parts Sprite, finished with ice and a sprig of mint. It’s much more refreshing than neat sherry on a hot May day and it will help you stay the distance – but be careful. Sherry is a fortified wine and we’re talking tumblers here, not your grandma’s cut-glass thimbles.

What to eat: Gypsy gastronomy like menudo, a spicy chick pea, chorizo and pepper potage; and berza gitana, a hearty stew of pork, cabbage and pulses, will help soak up the sherry; tagarninas – wild Spanish asparagus; and this year’s star product, jamón de Jabugo, will also be on the menu.

Watch Horses Dance

The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, rated on a par with Vienna’s, trains its horses to pirouette on a pinhead for weekly shows but the gala feria performance is a bigger deal. Held on the Friday evening (May 17) at its 1,600-seater covered arena, man and beast come gracefully together in an immaculately-choreographed equine ballet, with Spanish classical music and vintage costumes. The setting in the grounds of the 19th century Palacio de las Cadenas is nearly as beautiful as the horses. Why not hire one of the city’s horse-drawn chariots and arrive in style!

Stud Show

You’ve seen them in Gladiator, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Andalusian horses have been a recognised breed since Henry VIII of England met Francis 1 of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold on Spanish horseback. Courageous, docile and able to bear the weight of a king in a suit of armour with elegance, they were highly prized on the field of battle and by Spanish governments as tools of diplomacy.

Jerez is the cradle of the noble Carthusian horse, the purest of Andalusian bloodlines introduced 500 years ago by the monks of La Cartuja Monastery on the city outskirts. Neighbouring Hierro del Bocado stud farm keeps up the genetic tradition today. Its Saturday morning dressage shows include a tour of the paddocks and stables.