For many, one of the principal reasons for a move to France is to have more space and this could not be truer for the equestrian enthusiasts.
France is renowned as a paradise for horses, particularly Brittany and Normandy where a large percentage of the horse population is based.
But whilst having a free rein to put all your horsey dreams into action is appealing, keeping horses can become daunting if you don’t choose the right property.
Here are some tips to help you in your search for equestrian property:
Location, location, location
Key to getting the most out of your horse is being in the right area. Do your homework thoroughly before purchasing. If you enjoy a particular equestrian sport, make sure that you are within a relatively easy drive of the competitions you want to participate in. Whilst there is equestrian activity to be had throughout France, there is no doubt that some areas are better served than others. For example, if you are a serious competitive rider there is little point purchasing an isolated rural idyll if you are subsequently left with a two or three-hour drive every time you want to take your horse out. If you hope to breed, take note of where the stud farms are clustered. It’s not by chance that you find groups of breeding establishments within a short distance. Some areas of Brittany and Normandy are renowned for having some of the best grazing land in Europe, and those who are based in the key stud farm areas are well aware of their soil structure. You will also find that in regions which boast a large number of equestrian properties there is a corresponding infrastructure to support them. France is blessed with superb equestrian vets and blacksmiths.
Similarly, if good hacking is key on your list check beforehand that you have reasonable access to a bridleway network or beaches that allow horses on them. A good OS map (select the blue ones which give more detail) will identify all the ‘GR’ routes. The Grande Randonnée paths crisscross the whole of France and offer some superb outriding. If you visit the local Mairie they frequently have maps of local footpaths and bridleways, including some less official permissive routes.
Ensure that the property that you intend to purchase has sufficient land for the number of horses that you hope to keep, and if you intend to keep your horses at grass during the winter make sure it does not become waterlogged for several months of the year. For example, areas in the Marais (or ‘marsh’) provide some of the best quality hay you can make, but can become completely unusable in the winter months. The general rule of thumb is one hectare ( 2.471 acres) per horse.
If your dream property does not have the facilities that you are hoping for don’t despair. Planning consent is generally much more easily and quickly obtained for equestrian facilities such as stables, indoor and outdoor arenas, or all weather tracks than in other countries like the UK. Sometimes it can be better to build the up-to-date facilities you hope for rather than muddle through with existing and often old-fashioned facilities. Horses are classed as agricultural animals in France, so if horses are your business you may well find that you can obtain permission to build a house or apartment in order that you or your staff can look after your horses.
If you find your perfect property but you are short of the acreage you need, don’t rule out the possibility of sourcing land for rent. Rental agreements in France tend to be very protective of the tenant so you can be relatively confident of a long-term arrangement. Conversely, if you are buying property where all or part of the land is rented out, be warned that it can be very difficult to evict the tenant farmer! Prices vary, but as a guide a rental of around 150€ per hectare per year is fairly common.
•With thanks to Peta Morton, Normandy