St Theodore Day…
…Otherwise known as Todorovden is celebrated on the first Saturday of the first week of the (Orthodox) Lent. It is customarily known as ‘Horse Easter’ and is another day that not only welcomes the beginning of spring but also the health of horses. St Todor has been around since the Middle Ages and myth has it that the horseback warrior, St Todor put on nine coats, rode a horse and begged God to let summer begin.
By tradition, women would bake bread in the shape of a horseshoe and men would race horses, ‘kushia’ in the village streets. Although modern times have subdued the more flamboyant celebrations somewhat, many villages in Bulgaria still hold some kind of gathering to honour the horse.
We spent our horse day in Arbanassi, on the outskirts of Veliko Tarnovo. There is a big riding centre there and rumour had it that there was to be a big festival for St Todor Day. Arriving well within time, we took advantage by checking out the stables and horses that were getting prepared for their big day out by their stressful and grumpy riders.
As the riders looked slow to start, we took refuge a little further up at Kaloyan’s Castle for breakfast. Having never ventured there before, it was a surprise as we turned the corner and saw a mock medieval castle complete with a decorative moat. Once inside, we opened the grand doors to find a huge, empty restaurant with feelings of grandeur of days gone by. As the only guests that moment, we were treated very well and ate a good breakfast before heading back to walk down the hill towards the town.
We had missed the procession of horse from the stables into town but fortunately our hungry stomachs hadn’t missed the action in the town’s square which was completely crowded with hundreds of people turning out. A total of 9 horses and one horse and cart stood proudly in a line while the audience was introduced to each horse in turn. After a short time, the winners were announced – on what grounds I’m really not sure – but they were asked, one by one, to walk up to the priest whereupon the rider kissed his cross and the horses were sprayed with holy water.
And then it was all over!
The horses sped off back up to the stables, the people dispersed either to the restaurants and bars or to buy sweets from the many stallholders. We followed the small crowd back up the hill to the stables where at least the girls got to have a short ride on some of the horses.