Cheval Passion – Le Salon du Cheval Part 2

We woke up to a mighty clap of thunder at about 6am on Sunday.  Cinnamon was petrified, of course, and I hadn’t brought her calming medicine with me, so I let her crawl under the bedclothes, hoping the darkness and warmth would comfort her.  It helped a little, but on the next big rumble, she shot out of the bed and made for the door, then she spent some time scurrying around the hotel room looking pathetic and shivery, as she tried to find a “safe” place.  Thankfully, the thunder passed quickly and Cinny got over her terror, but the accompanying torrential rain was slow to clear.  We took our time over brekkie and made our way to the Expo centre at about ten.  It was still raining on and off, but there was an optimistic glimmer of brightness to the west, which made the puddle-dogding more bearable. We left the dogs in the car while it rained and we went SHOPPING!  Well, actually, we didn’t buy a whole lot but we visited every single trade stand in each of the five halls.  One hall was devoted to equitourisme, and we got lots of leaflets, maps, brochures and even some advice from the people manning the stands.  I got to meet the owner of the Gite Équestre which is closest to Flurry and Aero – it’s an easy day’s ride away, at St Simiane La Rotonde – and he showed me a nice four-day circuit we could do.  I assured him I’ll be in touch! The LSH finally found a hat which A. fits him and B. doesn’t look too hideous on him.  Of course I forgot to take a photo of him wearing his new hat (it’s an Aussie hat), but it turns out he was in the background of one of my horse shots, so that’s him in his new hat on the right of this column! Then while he was trying on denim jodhs (I refuse to let him wear normal jodhs anymore), I found a wonderful numnah which is designed for trekking with an English saddle.  It has four pockets and a rolly-up plus lots of rings for attaching other saddle-bags.  I went back to the changing room, told the LSH about it and in that time it was SOLD!!! AAAAAGH!  But I’m going to order one on-line, this is what it looks like :

I did a Loot Shoot of all our STUFF :

As well as all the brochures, there’s a saddlebag which fits over the cantle, complete with two water bottles, the LSH’s hat, his jodhs (under the Hautes Alpes sticker), a really heavy duty bum-bag for me (complete with pistol holder – like I’m going to use that!), 2 metres of leather thongs (perfect for tying things onto saddles) and two pairs of socks that were thrown in for free with the saddlebag and jodhs.

Now to start planning some treks… By the time we finished shopping, the rain had eased off and it brightened up a bit.  We reclaimed the dogs, but of course it was lunchtime by now.  This is France, and lunchtime must be observed, so we made our way to one of the Cabaret Équestre halls, planning to eat while we watched some horses strut their stuff. We got a bit distracted on the way, though.  First there was this :

A young lady warming up her pony – on stilts.  She could even run on her stilts, in a bouncy kind of way.  She must be very fit and balanced!

Then this fat little Fjord caught my eye – mostly because fellow French horsey blogger Helen has one :

Fat Fjord was not too keen on working – I think he is one of those ponies that believes in economy of movement – but he was very cute!
Then this beauty caught my eye :
Oh wait, I’m so sorry, did I post one of him before?  And what’s that I hear you saying about a close-up?
We dragged ourselves away from the warm-up area (or rather, the LSH dragged me away from the warm-up area) and made our way into the Cabaret area.
Once again we were seated well away from the arena.  It was difficult to see and nigh impossible to photograph, given the low light conditions and intervening audience heads.  We got glimpses of what was going on, but to be honest, I find watching the performers warming up much more interesting – even without Mr **swoon**
Nonetheless, the Cabaret was fun, interesting and entertaining for horse-lovers and Others alike.  It started off with a Cowboy/Indian story done with the assistance of a skewbald pony. The Cowboy and the Indian took turns taking the pony off each other, riding him around and doing various tricks – riding backwards, vaulting on and off, hanging off the side… that sort of thing, but they ended up as friends.
Then the stilt-girl came in with her dun pony, which was now at liberty, and did a sort of ballet with it.  It was all very pretty, and the pony did some nice moves – piaffe alongside his stilt-girl was really good.  After that, Fat Fjord came in.  He did a similar sort of ballet, only with his girl on board.  He was still a little reluctant to put his heart and soul into the performance and, for the cantering bits, someone else had to come in and lunge him to keep him going.  I suspect he’s in the wrong job.
After that, we had eight Lipizzaners in the tiny ring.  When they went around the whole ring, they were practically nose-to-tail.  Most of them have obviously been doing this sort of show for some time, but two of them were VERY excited and gave their riders an interesting time, but no-one hit the sand!  They walked, trotted and cantered (and in some cases, spooked and bucked), changed the rein, walked trotted and cantered (spooked and bucked) again and then lined up for a salute and went out.
The last performance we saw before we left, having finished our lunch, was a dun miniature horse being driven on long-reins while a full-sized dun horse performed under the saddle.  Well, I loved it – two pretty duns doing fancy footwork, what’s not to like?  The LSH was not too keen on it, though – he really doesn’t like miniatures.  To each their own, I say!
This concept of Cabaret Équestre is completely new to me, and it opened my eyes to a whole alternative horse-industry here on the Continent which we don’t get in Ireland or the UK.  Yes, I admit that at the big shows (Dublin, Royal Balmoral, HOTY etc) we’ll have a Big Name horse performance, like the Mounties or the Cossacks or Lorenzo or Jean-François Pignon, but they are the elite in this industry.  Beneath them, there are hundreds if not thousands of performing horses and their riders.  Many of them have acts which are very circus-like, perhaps they also spend some time touring with a circus? Others have classical leanings, like the performing Iberian horses or the Lipizzaners pictured above, then there are the vaulters, the story-tellers, the ballet-performers… a whole slew of horse lovers making a career out of their passion in a way that is entirely new to me.
One of the things that Cheval Passion does quietly in the background is that it provides a Showcase for new acts, Le Marché International du Spectacle Équestre de Création.  It’s solely for Show organisers, so that they can check out available acts for the coming season.  What a good idea – it gives the performers a chance to practise new routines in public as well as giving them a shop-window, so to speak.

After our lunch, we watched some Camargue horses doing their Tri de Bétail (cattle sorting) with the long-horned black Camargue bulls.

I love watching the little white horses weaving fearlessly through the herd of bulls.

The bulls, for their part, seem to accept being directed around the place by a horse,

whereas I’m sure a person on foot would not get so much respect. If I understood the commentator correctly, this guy is in his seventies :

Fair play is all I can say!

Yup, just LOVE these guys…. the HORSES, I mean, the HORSES! After that, the LSH went to watch more HorseBall, and I made my way back to the Iberian Horses Hall (just for CavaliereAttitude!) I arrived just as they were course-building for the final Iberian class of the show.  The horses had already competed in Dressage and an Obstacle course.  Their final class was a speed round over an obstacle course.  Each round is timed, with penalty seconds being added for errors (knocking over a pole, for example).  However there was also a judge watching the correctness of the horse’s movements, to make sure that horses which went through all the movements in a correct frame would be rated higher than a horse which might go through it all more quickly, but in an incorrect manner – flat, or fighting the bit, or not changing legs in canter, for example. The course had 11 elements :

  1. an L-shaped chute, they just had to ride through it
  2. bending poles, they are expected to change leg at each pole
  3. an L of raised poles. They had to walk through the L, ring a bell at the end and then rein-back out of it again.  Not easy.
  4. a bridge
  5. a jump.  All of the ones I watched were crap at jumping!
  6. a rope gate, they had to unhook the rope, pass through the gate and hook up the rope again
  7. two little trees in pots, they had to canter a small figure eight around the trees with a flying change in the middle
  8. a pole on the ground, they had to perform half-pass in trot or canter with the forelegs on one side of the pole and the hindlegs on the other
  9. three barrels in a shamrock shape, they had to circle each barrel
  10. a serpentine which had to be done using the bending poles from 2 and another set of poles in the middle of the arena
  11. the bridge again.

The riders got to walk the course with the course designer and their trainers – it looked just like a show-jumping course-walk back home, complete with Jack Russell, except the riding attire was a bit different!

A couple of things impressed me about this class. There was a strong feeling of sportsmanship in the hall – riders watched each other and cheered each other on. The first horse to go had already been eliminated from the overall competition, but was allowed to participate just for the experience.  The commentator made sure that everyone knew it was the horse’s first ever show and that he had improved steadily every day, and encouraged us all to give a special round of applause when horse and girl completed. The second horse to go was the last-placed overall, and unfortunately, the rider had an error of course, which meant elimination.  Despite that, they were allowed to carry on and finish the course – a nice touch. The dun horse which you see in the slide show was absolutely wired to the moon.  After he shot out-of-control through obstacle 2, the bending poles, the bell rang – Elimination!  The judge felt that the horse was a risk to himself and to his rider, so he called the rider over for a quiet word after ringing the bell and then allowed horse and rider to go through the bending poles once again, nice and steady, so they would finish on a good note. True horsemanship. Over the course of the weekend, we saw a lot of Comtois horses at the show.  These are the very heavy chestnut horses with flaxen manes and tails – they’re a bit like giant Haflingers.  Some of them were taking part in the Crinières d’Or performance and some of them were there representing studs and breeders.  They’re such striking creatures, with their pretty colouring but immense physiques, and they seem to be a gentle, sensible breed.  This final slide show has quite a few Comtois horses in it at the start, plus a few gratuitous head shots taken around the show.  Enjoy! By the way, guess who learned how to do Slideshows yesterday! I hope you all enjoyed reading about Cheval Passion as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Roll on next year, I say, but in the meantime, there’s Equisud Montpelier at the start of March (I’m in if you’re in, Stella!) or how about this :

Haute École in the ancient Roman Amphitheatre in Arles!  There is no way I’m missing that!  Now, how many of these could I actually manage to see…

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