Competitions in France are very different to those held in the UK, particularly if you are used to the traditional local show, where you can compete in showing classes in the morning and perhaps do a couple of jumping competitions or some pony games in the afternoon. The French tend to have competitions directed towards one particular event at a time, but, nevertheless, most equestrian sports are very well represented and the competitions are no less fun.
If you plan to compete in affiliated competitions in any event other than TREC, then you will need to have a horse with recognised breed papers, which is subsequently registered on the sport horse register. The National Stud www.haras-nationaux.fr have a very informative website, and a telephone help line to help with the registration procedure. Make sure that you start making the necessary applications well in advance because, as with all things bureaucratic in France, the administrative wheels turn very slowly.
To compete on horses at affiliated competitions, you either need to hold your Galop 7 qualification or you need to ask the BHS to provide you with proof that you have competed in affiliated competitions in the UK. If you hold equestrian qualifications, these can help to prove that you ride to a certain standard and the Federation has a contact that should be able to advise you. Technically speaking, to be granted your Galop 7, you should sit a practical and theory test in French, but the reality is that most riding clubs will watch you ride and then send away for your licence, granting you the appropriate exam if they believe you are competent.
There are different sorts of licences available; the ‘licence pratiquant’ is the minimum licence required by anyone attending a riding club, and the ‘licence competition’ must be held by anyone wanting to compete. There are five different competition licences available, levels 3, 4 and 5 aimed at amateur riders and levels 1 and 2 aimed at the professionals. The licence pratiquant is the cheapest at 25€ for children and 36€ for adults, and the licences get progressively more expensive with the most expensive at 460€ for those wanting to compete in Pro1. Generally, amateurs compete in club events or in Amateur 3 or 4 events.
Pony competitions are open to riders with lower ‘Galop’ levels and the requirements for each standard of competition are listed on the FFE website (in French) at www.ffe.com/sif/documents/Reglement_2014_Grand_Format_Portrait.pdf or in the rulebooks of each sport (available from the FFE by post). PONAM events are only open to papered ponies and are of a more competitive standard than club level competitions.
If you have an unpapered horse or pony, you can still compete to a reasonable level at club events – although it remains a frustrating fact of French life that, if you have a real superstar with no breed papers, you will be unable to compete at the highest levels unless you can show that your horse has previously competed at international level. Unpapered ponies (not horses) can pass a series of tests ‘OI’ (origine inconnu – unknown origins) and, if they gain enough points during the season, do well at the championships and the owner then pays a fairly hefty registration fee, the pony can be allowed to compete in PONAM events. Be warned – you’ll need to have a pretty special pony and be very motivated to ‘make it happen’.
Competitions are listed in the ‘Bulletin Official’, otherwise known as the BO’s and available on subscription from the Federation, and can also be found on the FFE website – click on ‘FFE Club/SIF’ for the pony and unaffiliated events and ‘FFE Compet’ for the affiliated horse events and associated rules and regulations.
You will also find local websites such as www.cde50.fr list local events and training competitions. It may take a little while to understand the different types of competitions but the easiest way is to go and watch a few events and then it soon seems straightforward.
Working with horses
If you’re planning to make your living with horses, then, ordinarily, you will pay your social contributions (the equivalent to National Insurance) to the MSA (Mutualité Sociale Agricole) who look after the agricultural industry. If you only plan to breed a couple of horses a year, there is little sense in registering, as you will be required to pay social charges regardless of how much or how little you earn. If you have a property with land, you will still have to pay a small annual charge to the MSA based on how much land and how many agricultural buildings you own. Take professional advice as to the best financial and legal structure for your own circumstances.
If you hold equestrian qualifications in the UK, then these can be transferred to the French equivalent – www.igeq.org is a very useful guide. www.lesmetiersducheval.com lists all the French occupations and diplomas possible, as well as training centres etc.