Held every October in the village of Zuidlaren in Drenthe, the Zuidlaardermarkt is famous for being the largest horse market in Europe, as well as for its long history. Since 1200, hundreds of horses and ponies from the Netherlands and abroad are brought for sale to the annual market in Zuidlaren. The Northern Times went to the market to explore the typical-Dutch attraction and to check whether the traditional way of horse-trading is still popular.
Written by Yelena Kilina
After taking a bus at the train station in Groningen, it took around half an hour to arrive in the village of Zuidlaren. Endless rows of parked cars and bicycles indicated that the Zuidlaardermarkt is still well-attended, despite being held on the working day of Tuesday. As soon as we enter the market, a pastoral scene is unfolding before our eyes: kilometres of market stalls, sounds of hooves and neighing, farmers wearing clogs and confidently leading bridled horses. The equine identity of the village is reflected even through horse-shaped metal decorations on the houses.
Finding a new home
The market always takes place this time of the year as autumn is the time when young ponies and foals need a shelter to sleep. Those farmers who happened to have too many young horses for their stables bring them to the market for sale. This way the horses and ponies have a chance to find a new home where they will be loved; ‘otherwise, some of them might be slaughtered,’ explains Irma from Drenthe. ‘Some people might see markets as an unfriendly place for horses, but living in bad conditions would be more stressful for the animals. Besides, they have food, water and company here; horses are social animals and don’t like to be alone.’
Before buying a pony
Irma has one horse herself, but came to the market to sell her nephew’s pony, a one-year old Ilona. Before getting a hitching post at the Zuidlaardermarkt, all animals get chipped, vaccinated and inspected by a vet. That is why buying a pony at the market for 200-300 euros may seem more expensive than buying elsewhere without vaccination. The price may be higher for horses with special colouring; for example, black-and-white ponies are usually more expensive than brown ones. Nevertheless, it is important that prospective buyers have a shelter and a pasture suitable for grazing animals. Ponies can be trained for riding from 3 to 20 years old and usually live until 30-35 years. Irma hopes that her pony will become a long-term good friend for someone who will give it a lot of cuddles.
In case someone does find a perfect pony, horse or donkey at the Zuidlaardermarkt, just handing in money will not work. According to the tradition, the negotiation should happen in the local way of bargaining. First, the buyer bids and claps the seller on the hand. If the seller is not satisfied with the price, he responds with a clap at the buyer’s hand and offers his price. The trade continues this way until both participants are satisfied with the price, then they shake hands and the sale is sealed.
Being the largest horse market in Europe, the Zuidlaardermarkt also attracts a lot of horse-lovers from other European countries. Irene travelled from Spain to Drenthe to sell baroque horses, known for their romantic looks and flowing manes and tails. In the Spanish province of Badajoz, Irene works as a horse riding instructor and trains Pure Spanish breed horses.
Not only buyers and sellers, but also horse-admirers of all ages are welcome to carefully stroll around the Zuidlaardermarkt. Fred and Tineke from the province of Groningen came to Zuidlaren with their grandchildren Toon and Pijke. The primary school children wanted to see horses and were promised to have oliebollen after attending the market.