The Horses of Camargue

by sharon santoni
horses in water

When subject, light and circumstance collide…the result can be pure magic. Photographers live for such rare opportunities and without knowing where or when this might happen, they are always prepared — never leaving home without their cameras. Yann Villaret, a photographer from the South of France, had one of these fortuitous experiences with the famous horses of Camargue…


One late afternoon in June, Yann decided to drive down to the beach in Camargue, near Saintes Maries de la Mer. He had no real plan, just an urge to see the sea, and naturally, he had his camera with him. Mid-June the days are very long, and the beach was his to enjoy.

The early evening light was beautiful, reflecting off the sand and gentle waves. As he wandered along the ocean’s edge, he saw a group of horses appear in the distance. As they came closer, he realized that some had riders and others were trotting along beside them. Yann had happened upon a troop of the famous chevaux of Camargue.

Traditionally used to herd cattle, Camarguais horses — known for being white, sturdy and reliable — are an intricate part of the local culture, playing an important role in the region’s religious festivals and parades. The riders are called les gardians de Camargue and the poles they carry to herd their bulls and their horses are tridents.

Seizing this unique opportunity, Yann immediately started snapping with a zoom lens, switching to a wider angle as they approached. Understanding that he wanted to take photos, the gardians came over to speak to him and agreed to gallop past him for a shot. They explained that after a long day’s work on the manade (a ranch in Camarguais), they like to bring their steeds to freshen up in the sea. 

To please the photographer — as well as for their own enjoyment — they galloped in every direction for several hours. As the sun went down, Yann grew more confident, as did the horses, and by the end of the evening, he was thigh-deep in the water, with them galloping towards him and swerving at the last minute… perfect models.

Yann knew that this was an exceptional moment, but it wasn’t until he returned home that he truly understood just how special it had been. These pictures are the proof.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of My French Country Home Magazine

Text by Sharon Santoni – Photos by Yann Villaref

For more photos, get your copy of our May/Jun 22 issue HERE!

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