Here, as in the UK, you will always find someone looking for temporary or permanent loan homes for their horses. (look for horses ‘à confier’). Leasing (look for horses ‘à louer’) is also quite commonplace within the sport horse/pony community. For example, a show jumping pony that knows its job comes at a premium so many parents of young riders lean towards the ‘rental’ option. In much the same way as in the UK, it is wise to protect yourself and the owner by insisting on entering into a formal loan/lease agreement setting out clearly the terms and conditions. These can frequently be found online on the French equestrian websites.
Where do you start looking? All depends upon the sort of horse/pony you are looking for. Horses are regularly advertised on specialist breed sites, and on the numerous equestrian websites such as www.ffe.com (the home of the French Equestrian Federation) and www.cavadeos.com. Look in the Petites Annonces section of newspapers such as the Ouest France or in the specialist equestrian press, which you can find in most supermarkets, such as l’Eperon magazine (the French equivalent of Horse and Hound – there are a very good range of magazines available over here, and they are great for improving your French!). You will also find ads in the freebie magazines such as EquiAnnonces, which you can pick up at tack shops, feed merchants and shows.
There are an excellent range of auctions throughout the region, ranging from the famous Deauville Bloodstock auctions through to the sport horse sales such as Fences www.fences.fr, and NASH www.nash-auction.com. Generally speaking, horses are well vetted before going to auction, or vets are available on site.
Normandy is well known for having a plethora of stud farms, and many of the studs will have youngstock for sale – if your French is not good enough or you are not clear about the correct market price you should be paying, you may want to consider finding a bilingual agent, who knows a variety of stud managers to help you.
Normandy also has its fair share of traditional horse fairs and these tend to take place at the end of the summer into autumn. The foire de Lessay is one of the biggest in Europe – be prepared to get there early if you hope to find a bargain as the best horses/ponies are often sold before they even get off the lorries. Gavray and Saint Hilaire du Harcouët also host well-known horse sales. Well worth a visit if only for the experience, you will find every imaginable sort of equine tethered from nose to tail, and the challenge is usually to find the owners who have wandered off to the bar before you can start negotiations with them directly in earnest. Be warned that, as with similar fairs around the globe, this is the haunting ground of unscrupulous dealers, those looking to offload dodgy or difficult horses and the meat man. A well known French showjumper once told me ‘I go there to sell, never to buy’, which is probably a pretty sensible attitude. If you can harden your heart and keep your cheque book in your pocket, you’ll have a fascinating introduction to French rural life.