This is where Normandy has a massive edge on many other areas in France. Not without reason is Normandy known as the sport horse capital of Europe and, because of the high concentration of horses in the region, many of them very high value, the industry has built up an infrastructure to support them. Here, for example, you are blessed with some of the best vets in France, if not internationally – equestrian professionals travel their horses to the clinic at Dozulé from all over the world – and, elsewhere in the region, you will find colic specialists, those that specialise in lameness, breeding, etc. You will also find that alternative medicine is much more widely accepted and practiced in France, and there is a good choice of equine chiropractors, homeopaths, herbalists, shiatsu, reiki practitioners etc. As everywhere else in the world, there are brilliant, mediocre and atrocious blacksmiths. The good thing about Normandy is that there is no need to put up with someone who is not quiet with your horses and who does a shoddy job as there are more than enough competent farriers to go round.
Undoubtedly, personal recommendation from other horse owners is the best answer – if you don’t know anyone in France yet, there are some very friendly equestrian forums such as http://www.equineonline.net, where folk are happy to share their experiences and advice. If you are the outgoing sort, find a stud farm near you (let’s face it, they’re not in short supply in Normandy!!!), where the horses look in tip-top condition, and go and tap on the door and ask the yard manager who they use for their horses. They’ll usually be only too happy to share their experiences and you’ll make yourself a great new contact to boot.
Once a year, the ‘Annuaire du Cheval’ is published and this is a thorough reference, listing suppliers and breeders of anything equestrian you can care to imagine, as well as statistics for all aspects of the industry. The Hors Series d’Elevage is also an annual publication by l’Eperon, which is indispensable for anyone looking to breed sport ponies/horses. Both can be found at the local supermarket at the beginning of the year, or later in the season can be ordered online.
Feed, hay and bedding
Most agricultural feed merchants (e.g. Districo/Agrial/Point Vert) stock a good range of both straight feed (oats, barley etc) and prepared mixes. If you are after English names that you recognize, then you can still find suppliers such as Sanders, Royal Horse, Spillers and Baileys Horse Feeds in France, although you may have to order them in. Suppliers such as Reverdy provide an extensive range and good advice for any particular feeding problems and their website is available in English. Destrier and EquiGold are also readily available in the region.
If you are looking for hay (foin) or straw (paille) the first stop has to be your local farmer. If they don’t have any to sell, they will almost certainly know someone who does. Failing that, look in one of the local newspapers such as Ouest France or the notice board at your feed merchants, where suppliers will regularly be listed. If you have enough land to make your own hay, you will find that it is fairly common throughout France to arrange for a local farmer to cut and bale your hay in return for taking 50% of the crop.
If you just need a few bales of shavings, then your local agricultural co-operative is usually your best source of bedding. If you need to buy in bulk, then you will almost certainly be better off using a contractor. Again, you will find suppliers listed in the Annuaire de Cheval, or in the back of the equestrian magazines. Flax (lin) is also popular as a biodegradable alternative to traditional shavings.
If you plan to ride on the road, then French law says that you must have third party insurance for your horse. This can often be included with your house policy, or if you take out a licence via a local riding club/directly with the FFE (the French equivalent of the British Horse Society). Just as in the UK, you only need to pick up any equestrian magazine from your supermarket or visit any of the major horse shows during the season and you will find no end of insurance companies who specialise in equestrian policies waiting to ply you with a product to suit your circumstances. There is no truth in the commonly held rumour that you need to hold French Galop exams in order to hack out.
Finding a Riding School/Club
Finding a good club can require a little trial and error but is an excellent way to both improve your French and to get a real feel for the French equestrian scene. Clubs are listed in the Pages Jaunes (centres équestres) and on the Federation site at https://www.telemat.org/FFE/sif/?page=-club. As ‘pony club parents’, out most weekends on the show jumping circuit, we found it helpful to attend the shows and watch which clubs were getting their kids to take all the short-cuts and see who were coming home with a high percentage of trophies – usually the ones with a dynamic instructor in the middle of the warm-up arena yelling excellent advice to a group of motivated teenagers on whizzy ponies hanging on to their every word. Typically, lessons are offered during the school year and, during the school holidays, the normal lessons stop and are replaced by specific courses, for example working towards an examination, or cross country, vaulting etc.