I’d heard of Vidauban before. I knew there was an international dressage competition there once a year and I think it used to host an international jumping competition as well. I did not know the proper name for the equestrian facility – it turns out it’s Domaine Equestre des Grands Pins. Anyhow, I had a feeling it would be worth seeing, so when Alexandrine mentioned that she was going to take Valentine there to try to get their final qualifying score for the French National Dressage championships in Saumur, I volunteered to go along as groom.
The first surprise was the parking area – a huge expanse of tarmac with loads of drainage channels dug through the middle of it. When it rains here, it RAINS so I suppose they have to give the water somewhere to go! The second surprise was the spotlessly clean competition stables. They were on the same expanse of tarmac – not the best for horses’ legs, perhaps, but they made up for it by supplying two enormous bales of straw in each stable.
A lot better than some of the soggy beds we’ve seen in temporary stables over the years!
The second surprise was the warm-up arenas. I know, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I should have known they’d be huge. And perfect. Sigh.
Above is just one of the warm-up arenas. To the right of it, there’s an even bigger one, which was used as a competition arena this weekend. The one in the photo is 100 x 40 metres – it would hold my arena in Cork FIVE TIMES OVER; the other one is slightly shorter but much wider at 90 x 60 metres. Mind boggling.
But there were more. There was another warm up arena which was about the same as the one above, plus a smaller “ten minute” holding arena (still twice the size of what I had in Cork…) plus two formal competition arenas in front of the viewing stand. Then there was the indoor :
We were in the Côte d’Azur, of course. There’s a lot more money floating around there than there is in the East end of the Luberon, and it shows.
Anyway, us mountain dwellers were doing our weekend away on the cheap. We camped in the truck. It was… um… rustic!
But I have to say it was fun. And we both slept reasonably well the two nights we were there, although I’m paying for it now – my back is a bit knackered. I’d brought along our generator, so we had electric lights and were able to keep our phones charged – woohoo!
Valentine was a star. She’s grown up an awful lot this year. At the start of the year, she was completely goggle-eyed at the show in Aix-en-Provence, but she took all the excitement in her stride this weekend. While Alexandrine loosened her up after the journey, I had a little wander around the grounds and found the third surprise :
Riders are ALLOWED to practise in the competition arenas! Shock and horror! I told Alexandrine that this was absolument interdit at big competitions in Ireland and the UK. I’m not sure about the US – maybe someone can enlighten me? Are riders allowed to ride in the competition arena on the eve of a big show, or is it a formal in-hand arena walk over there, too?
Competition day dawned but we slept on until 8am. With a time of 11.20am, we were quite relaxed and it all worked out well. Alex and Vava warmed up well and then went in to do their stuff.
I was videoing, so there’s no photos of the actual test. Because I was videoing, I also found it impossible to tell how the test was going – you know how, when you’re just straining to keep the camera pointed in the right direction and trying to make sure the horse is in the centre of the picture all the time, you can’t actually see what’s happening? So although I knew there had been no mistakes, I really had no idea how it had gone.
But, being a young horse class, the judges discuss their marks with the riders over the speaker system after each test, so we get instant feedback. They award marks out of 10 for walk, trot, canter, relaxation/submission and harmony. I couldn’t understand what the judge was saying, mostly because the speakers were garbling his words, but I did hear a lot of sevens. They finished up with 75.1% – Premiere Prime! Just what they needed to qualify for Saumur! And not only did they get their qualifying mark, but they won the class! Yippee!
The fourth surprise, by the way, was this.
There’s an airfield and a parachute training centre right beside the Domaine Equestre Des Grands Pins so it was, quite literally, raining men all weekend. I wonder what happens when one of them lands in a dressage arena?? It must happen sometimes!
I spent the rest of the day chilling out, wandering around and taking photos. There was so much bling around – bling on the fly bonnets, bling on brow bands, nosebands, numnahs, helmets, shirts… bling everywhere! Actually, too much for my conservative taste. Although I did quite like this belt…
(and yes I know it’s out of focus. Best I could do at the time 😦 )
I did feel that there were a lot of less than happy horses around BUT my ideals have changed a lot in the last couple of years. I saw flat, dull, obedient horses shuffling through high level movements and I saw highly strung, tense horses prancing through their tests with open mouths (a lot) and swishing tails. I’m not knocking it all, mind you, there were some nice horses and riders, especially in the Grand Prix on Saturday evening. There were also loads of Spanish horses with riders in costume, which I enjoyed – you never see that sort of thing back in Ireland!
On the second day, things did not go so well for Alex and Valentine. Valentine is used to turnout 24 hours a day and, after being confined to a stable for almost a full day, she had stiffened up noticeably. She still scored 67.2% (I’d have been thrilled!) but that wasn’t enough for Premiere Prime. She was only 3% off the class winner, but still ended up in fifth place that day.
I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. I enjoyed watching the horses and seeing how the levels differ between here and Ireland. I enjoyed sitting around chatting with French people in the evening, and hearing exactly the same conversations as I’d have heard at a big show in Ireland. We’re not so different after all, perhaps.
Here’s a second slideshow. Some of the horses look a bit crap because I’ve caught them at the wrong moment, e.g. the wrong step in the middle of a pirouette! Some of them look a bit crap because they were tight and tense. When it comes down to it, they all look like horses you’d see competing anywhere in the world. Yeah. We’re not so different at all. Anyone can look a bit crap at times!
New addition to bucket list :
Compete at Vidauban. It’s not as unlikely as it sounds. Watch this space in 2015.