The Last of the Horseback Shrimp Fishermen

by Owen James Burke

horsebackfishing

(Photo via Saildream)

Twice a week in Oostduinkerke, Belgium, these 2,000-pound Brabant horses barrel into chest-deep surf dragging a chain and a net behind them. As the horses begin their stride, the vibrations of the chains rumbling along the sand stir up the shrimp, which become frenzied and hurl themselves upward and into the net. Once a net is moderately full, the fishermen load the shrimp into baskets that are strapped on either flank of the horse, hop back into the saddle and continue to work their way along the sandbar.

There are only 12 families left in Europe (and probably the world) who fish for shrimp on horseback year-round (apart from the winter months), but celebration of the custom hasn’t let up, and each year there’s a two-day shrimp festival for which the town spends months preparing.

It’s hard to consider how long these 12 families might continue to scour the coastal sands on horseback, and it may look rather silly, but put even the hardiest of fools behind the reins of one of these one-ton beasts and see if they don’t end up in the drink, or worse yet, trampled into shrimp food.

Here’s a short clip of how it’s done (backed by an obligatorily nostalgic string score):

Hat tip to Saildream — OB

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