La course Landaise (France)
Name of sport (game)
Name in native language
Place of practice (continent, state, nation)
This sport is practiced all over the departament of Landes, in the western part of Gers, Garlin, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Captieux, Gironde, Maubourguet and Castelnau-Rivière-Basse in the Hautes-Pyrenees. These cities have arenas and infrastructure required to organize the competitions. La Course Landaise is a sport belonging to the cultural heritage of Gascony (Gascon). Nowadays la Course Landaise, the traditional discipline of Gascony, is still main event at rural festivals. Its modern form comes from 1830.
The passion of the inhabitants of Gascony for cow racing is a long story. The document found in the Bayonne archives of 1289 is an evidence of this. Of course, it did not look like la Course Landaise we know today.
The first races included running on the narrow streets of medieval cities from animals that were led by butchers to the slaughterhouse. Cows, oxen and bulls gave young people some adventure in their life, like facing the horns, and at the same time opposing civil and religious authorities who severely condemned these, considered anarchist and pagan, practices.
Testimonies about the sport with cow racing have been reported for centuries in southwestern France. The oldest authentic document preserved in the National Archives (from 1457) refers to the old custom of running cows and oxen on the streets of Saint-Sever during Saint-Jean’s festival. Similarly, in the city of La Teste-de-Buch, the tradition was that the cows ran through the dunes, while the players tried to jump over the animals. It was practiced on sand and therefore it was less dangerous.
Course Landaise perfectly shows the culture of Gascony, the culture of popular holidays, courage and emotions. The public authorities, paradoxically, wanting to ban and then controlling the competition, imposing the first regulations and building the first arenas, have allowed la Course Landaise to develop and become popular tradition of the region. It was only in the 19th century that la Course Landaise’s form became organized. First of all, it had to be practiced in a limited and closed place, surrounded by the audience, and not freely on the street, as it was until then. The use of the rope and the role of the person responsible for this rope were already known at the end of the French Revolution and the acrobats were performing in this limited space of the arena. Among them the most known are:
- la feinte (deception) – created by Darracq brothers of Laurède in 1831,
- l'écart (dodge), made for the first time by Cizos in 1850,
- le saut (somersault), made for the first time by Charles Kroumir in 1886 in Peyrehorade
It should also be noted that at that time there were also other types of competitions involving cows or even bulls (e.g. stabbing a spear into the neck of a running animal). Throughout the 19th century this Gascon sport was called the Course de Taureaux "(or Course aux Taureaux). October 17th and 18th, 1852, is an important date when Iberian cattle appear in Magescq, which fitted more for the organization of competitions than the local cattle.
The arrival of Spanish bullfighting in France in the half of the 19th century meant the arrival of Spanish cattle, the birth of the first ganaderos, the first cuadrillas ... From now on brave contestants become bullfighters, accept their clothes from the light, with the accompany of music. It was during this time that the contestants (bullfighters) adopted the habit of wearing white trousers and colored bolero, decorated with gold or silver elements. There is also the habit of wrapping the ends of horns of the most dangerous animals.
In the 19th and 20th century many arenas were built, especially in the departments of Landes, Gers and Gironde. Today, la Course Landaise competition is held especially in Landes and Gers, where the season of this sport runs from March to October, as well as customary on the day of the patron. Still, the sport is practiced in several regions of the Atlantic Pyrenees, and even in the Hautes-Pyrenees, while the less popular sport is in Gironde. The arenas in La Teste and Arcachon were destroyed, and Bordeaux cultivated this tradition until the middle of the 20th century. Smaller events also take place in Floirac, La Brède and Captieux.
This is one of the four forms of this type of fighting practiced in the world. It differs from the other three (corrida, Portuguese corrida and Camargue) by two special traits: firstly, it is practiced almost only with cows, not bulls. The second feature, which it shares with the Camarguaise breed, is that the animals are not killed during or after the race.
The bullfighters compete against the cows of the Spanish Brava and Toro de Lidia, which are called "Coursières", bred by Ganaderos in the Landes region – mainly between Dax and Aire-sur-l'Adour. Each farm has its own cuadrill or teams of bullfighters. It also has its own colors.
The bullfighters, locally known "Coursayres" in Gasconia, are divided into two categories:
- Les écarteurs are the basic characters in la Course Landaise and they are waiting for the cows in the arena. When the animals run out, contestants dodge at the last moment, thus avoiding collision. The dodge can be made "out", "inwards" (i.e. on the rope side/outside the rope keeper) or with a rope on the ground.
- Les sauteurs (jumpers) are waiting for a cow and jump over it. Animal’s path of running must be straight. These are, with rare exceptions, acrobats.
In the past, some outstanding athletes combined both these forms (i.e. dodging with jumps).
There are several types of dodges, but purists appreciate the dodging technique in which the horns of the animal pass around the bullfighter's kidney. The only training center for Course Landaise trainees is placed in Pomarez.
Cows, also called "courières", are female bulls fighting in the bullfight. Each of them has its own name. Before going to the arena, they are locked in boxes. They have rope attached around their horns to ensure safety during the fight in the arena. After the beginning of the competition, the cows come out in the pre-arranged order under the care of the person who leads them (Gascon courdayre) and two trainers. They place the animal in front of the bullfighter at the edge of the track, from where they start their run. Fifteen breeders (or ganaderos) raise 1,500 cows providing them freedom, more than half of which were born in the Landes region. Thanks to this, they are half a wild animal, which is very offensive. The most important breeders buy a hundred young cows in Spain every year, on farms in the Salamanca region, in order to complete their herd.
The cow goes out for the first time to the arena at the age of three or four and continues its career until it reaches the age of about thirteen. It can live longer than twenty years. It weighs from 300 to 400 kg (the weight of the bull is from 450 to 600 kg).
Today: practiced sport
Four types of Course Landaise:
1) Course formelle
This is a race that takes place throughout the whole season. This is where the reputation of people and cows is built. It takes about two hours and fifteen minutes, with a break, and it always starts with the Les écarteurs parade, ending with the March Cazérienne played on harmony. The music of the harmony then accompanies during the struggle.
In the season (temporada), five groups of breeders (ganaderías) and five teams of athletes (cuadrillas) take part in team and individual competitions. During the competition, the cuadrilla (team of athletes) consists of seven écarteurs wearing a bolero and four men dressed in white (jumper, two trainers and person from the rope service). This type of competition takes place mainly in Chalosse, Tursan, Armagnac, North Béarn and Bigorre.
At least ten cows participate in competitions. They are locked in boxes. Eight comes out in the first part, including a cow, over which the jumper performs; a cow without a rope and so-called vache de l'Avenir (the cow that is on a rope for the first time) and five cows on ropes that are used to the dodge show. In the second part, six cows come out, including five for dodging performance, and one for jumping performance.
At the end of the competition, the jury announces the individual results of each player and the result of the cow. This result will be used to calculate the "challenge" – the scoring of the competing in the five cuadrillas season. The jury also nominates the three best écarteurs of the competition, who are invited to stand on the podium and receive prizes – these are the people who made the ten best dodges on two different cows.
2) Concours landais
Also in this competition take part the best bullfighters, who compete with each other. Depending on the competition's budget, between two and five ganaderías participate, each with a specific contract for a group of cows (coursières).
Les écarteurs and les sauteurs (jumpers) are chosen individually by the organizers according to their own criteria; most often without distinction of the cuadrilla, with the best position in la Course Landaise ranking. Each competition has its own rules registered at the Fédération Française de la Course Landaise.
These competitions are therefore an opportunity to present the best cows of each of the competing ganaderías and put them with the best bullfighters. The difficulty is because of the fact that each competitor competes with the cow, about which he knows very little. This is the most interesting Course Landaise competition, the most discussed, but also the most dangerous. The most important competition with the participation of five ganaderías takes place in Aire-sur-l'Adour, Saint-Sever, Nogaro (Golden Horn Race), on July 14 at Mont-de-Marsan at the celebrations in Madeleine, in August in Hagetmau and Dax on the occasion of Dax celebrations, which is the oldest and most prestigious for écarteurs. Over a dozen competitions are organized every year.
- Course mixte
These competitions are also called second-class races. Mixed competitions (course mixte) are organized for an amateur audience. They are divided into two parts: the first part is a course formelle, but with less aggressive cows, the second part is reserved for arena games, also called toro-ball or toro-pool, where the audience can participate. Many mixed races (course mixte) are organized near seaside resorts, therefore they attract mostly summer holidayers. Some competitions, adapted to the requirements of this audience, contain only an element of fun.
4) Intervache or totoball
This is actually just for a fun. Often, in these types of events, many Gascons have their first contact with cows. About one hundred events of this type are organized every summer.
The Federation and the Organizing Committee (La Fédération et les Comités organisateurs partenaires) organize different levels of competition from March to October. Except for the formal races (course formelle) of ganaderías and cuadrillas, organized during ceremonies in most Gascony towns and villages, the most important annual events are:
- "challenge" competition (to gain points) - it's about 110 competitions a year. The competition allows to determine the winner of the écarteurs and jumping winners at the end of the season – the official classification of la Course Landaise. The six best écarteurs and the four best jumpers participate at the end of the season in the finals of the French championship for écarteurs and jumpers, traditionally on the first Sunday of October. Five "second" formations take part only in individual competitions under the name "escalot";
- individual competition - after each formal race (course formelle), podium for the winners of the day (at each competition, during the French championship);
- team competition - Cuadrillas Cup.
During the competition, all the acrobatics are judged by the jury (écarteurs and sauteur separately, according to the actual score). The members of the jury are part of the La Fédération Française de la Course Landaise referee group. After three years of internship they are accepted by the oldest referees and the selection is confirmed by the FFCL Controlling Committee (Comité Directeur de la FFCL). In the team of referees, the sports delegate is responsible for the proper functioning of the race in all its aspects: monitoring sports regulations, track quality, safety devices. He is the official representative of the FFCL and, if necessary, has the right to act on its behalf. In 2007, new and more stringent measures, enforced by all other sports federations, strengthened the jurors' authority. All they have to do is to show them a yellow scarf to warn the head of cuadrilla, who is the only person authorized to talk to members of the jury. If necessary, a red scarf appears, which results in greater penalties for the competitors and the group they represent.
Course Landaise is the art of confrontation and avoiding the natural aggression of a cow, which during the competition quickly learns human behavior and tries to counteract it, predicting his behavior. When the cow gains this knowledge, the role of the rope holder becomes more and more important to guide the animal. Every cow has a horn that it prefers to attack with and therefore it is more dangerous on this side. Écarteurs performs his acrobatics on the side of the "weaker horn", while the holding rope operates on the side of the "strong" horn. That is why this detail gives more value to the acrobatics accompanied by the dodging "inwards."
To establish the ranking of animals, there are four categories:
1 to 3 points: new cows that work well with the person keeping them on a rope, they are not a threat and the competition is pleasant and safe;
3 to 4 points: fast cows that start the racing immediately, bend their head, let the rope holders to do their performance, though without too much risk;
5 to 6 points, or even 7 or 8, if they perform well "in the race": strong cows, sometimes hard to control, not always fast, which creates problems for écarteurs;
9 to 10 points: dangerous cows that dominate the man and the arena or, on the contrary, are masterfully dominated by a man who takes all the risks.
Cows of the future
1 to 5 points: for presentation (morphology, horn size);
1 to 10 points: for the behavior on the track (run, engagement, activity)
1 to 10 points: for the work of a bullfighter, usually experienced, whose main mission is to highlight the characteristics of this young cow for the purposes of la Course Landaise.
Until the end of the 19th century, the arena was only a square in a village or fairgrounds, for the occasion closed with placed in a circle strollers. The first model of the hall was built in Landes, on a rectangular plan (40 × 30 m), rounded at one end.
In 2004 there were already 164 arenas for the organization of the competition, accepted by the Federation. There are currently around 180, but some are no longer used. Most events take place in Tursan, Chalosse, Armagnac, the Adour Valley, in the north of Béarn and Bigorre, which regions consist of 80 arenas.
The Courses Landaises racing arena must meet the needs of the competition and a necessity related to the logic of their organization. According to the Landes Architecture and Environment Council of the Landes (CAUE des Moors), there are time arenas, arenas with stands or arenas in Hispano-Landaises, amphitheater arenas, wooden covered amphitheatres, Spanish village arenas or Spanish squares (plazas). Arenas can take various shapes: oblong, rectangular or horseshoe-shaped. These objects are part of the local heritage. A special award is given to the most flowered arena.
The village of Pomarez en Chalosse has covered arenas. It is considered the most important place for Course Landaise, where festival with bulls is organized.
Fédération Française de la Course Landaise
Boite postale 201
40282 St Pierre du Mont Cedex
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