Belgium Horse Fishing
 By Winniefield Park   •   14th Nov 2016   •   1,018 views   •   0 comments

Iíve ridden horses, and Iíve spent some time fishing. Fishing is an okay way to spend some time, although I tend to have a book in one hand and the fishing rod in the other. Or in the rod holder, so that second hand is free for snack holding. Truth is, Iíve let my fishing license lapse. Iíd rather go riding. But what about combining the two activities? Can you fish on horseback? Turns out, you can, and itís not about using horses for packing in your fishing gear to a remote river in search of the trophy largemouth rainbow cod.

About 500 hundred years ago, an enterprising fisherman discovered that fishing for shrimp from the back of a horse was more efficient than doing so from a boat. Along the coast of Belgium, it was a common sight to see horses and riders dragging the sea bottom, waking up the shrimp and netting them as they tried to escape. The shrimp once caught, were used as fertilizer on the fields near the ocean shore. But today they are steamed and served as a fresh-caught seafood treat for tourists as a few remaining horse fisherman demonstrate their trade.

Originally, shrimping was been done from the back of a mule or donkey. But the use of larger nets means now, draft horses are used. Brabants, a breed developed in Belgium still pull the nets and carry in the catch for these last horse fishermen. These few hold-outs from an earlier time are now a popular tourist attraction. Oostduinkerke is the world's only coastal area where shrimp fishing on horseback still exists. But, at one time, this method of shrimping was done all along the North Sea, where the shallow beaches allowed access.

The bond between horse and fishermen is strong. Horses must be trained to enter the water fearlessly and pull the nets through the waves. The fishermen must not only be careful horsemen, they must also understand the ocean and its rhythms.

Dressed in the traditional oilskin slickers, rubber boots, and floppy souíwester hats, fisherman drive their horses pulling carts down onto the beach. Along with harness, the horses wear an uncomfortable looking wooden saddle with more frame than padding. The carts are left on the beach and nets are attached to the harness. Shrimping must be done at low tide, so in the pre-dawn darkness, the riders climb aboard the broad backs of their horses and head into the surf. The stocky Brabants have no problem walking chest deep in the constantly washing waves. They trawl back and forth parallel to the shoreline, the horses pulling the nets and balancing the large woven hampers used to collect the shrimp. When the load becomes heavy, they head back to shore to sort their catch.

Salty ocean water, coarse sand and cold sound unhealthy for a horse, but care is taken not to overwork these horses. Shrimping is done every other day. On fishing days after about two hours of work, the horses pull their loads off the beach and their work is done. Because the place where the few horse fishermen demonstrate their skill is now a busy tourist area, their actions are scrutinized and horses must be loaded in trailers to complete their journey home.

Some of todayís fishermen learned their trade later in life, others were captured by the allure of it as children. But many have generations of horse fishermen behind them. And, today's fishermen, are not all men. Working with her husband, one woman proudly calls herself the first female fishermen.

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