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French eventing’s secret weapon?

F Opgun Louvo (Shogoun II - Vanille du Tertre x J’T’Adore) bred by Yves Berlioz

FRANCE (by Christopher Hector) The French Eventing Team won the Gold Medal in Rio in spectacular style. A tough, coordinated team effort that kept pushing right to the line, right to the showjumping where they snatched a gold medal, and their number one rider, Astier Nicolas took home silver on Piaf de B'Neville. How has the French team ridden to the top? Our horses, is usually, the reply, our French horses are so good... and there are also so many of them.

Last year, the number of saddle horse (Selle Français) foals born came to just on 16,000: French blood counted for 13,780 (down from 18,000 in 2011) and foreign blood for another 2,094. It means that even though the sport horse business is in some- thing of a decline, as it is world-wide, in France it is still a major industry.

There are two million riders in France, of whom 700,000 are registered with the French Equestrian Federation. With 8,600 clubs, horse riding is the number one employer in the sports world: 38,000 managers, managers’ wives, husbands and salaried workers. On the competition side, there are for FFE and FEI events, 2,500 organizers, 160,000 competitors and 15,000 competition days. The equestrian industry in France is large enough to support its own semi-government organization, UNIC (Union Nationale Interprofessionelle du Cheval), whose charter is to market the French horse throughout the world. This article would not have been possible without the assistance provided by UNIC.

The French Breeding Industr y has taken note that their eventers are in demand all over the world, indeed half the German team at Rio, was sitting on Selle Français horses, including Sandra Auffarth, and her world champion, Opgun Louvo (Shogoun II - Vanille du Tertre x J’T’Adore: bred by Yves Berlioz). According to Auffarth, “Opgun was the first French horse I rode.”

Was he very different? “No, I got him when he was very young, so I started with him, and everything was good. A woman from Belgium went to France and bought him when he was three years old, and when he was five, she rang me and asked if I would like to ride him because it is a small horse and I am not that tall. I tried him and I liked him.”...