Equestrian sports, magic sights and the protection of the habitat.

Equestrian sports, magic sights and the protection of the habitat.

WEG 2014 in France. The medals have already been awarded – World Equestrian Games in France – an emotional roller-coaster ride. Beautiful landscapes, fabulously beautiful pictures of endurance riders on the beach in front of Mont Saint Michel. I am not sure if I have ever seen anything more beautiful, later the news of catastrophic track conditions and their fatal consequences appeared.

The morning right before the start of the endurance race began with enormous rainfalls – it might have rained the whole night before. After a drive through darkness of the rural Normandy, I found myself in a traffic jam short before Sartilly. Not surprising and it did not take too long. The signposting of the parking lots was poor. When I found myself in the morning darkness on a field, two young helpers with a mobile phone, pointing me in the right direction. All in all – what a joke: in total darkness, without any lighting, wading through wet meadows. “Ah, a road and people in sight!” But I was separated from them by barbed wire. Because of the darkness it took a while until I had found the exit from the labyrinth. Finally we all found the way to the stadium – somehow and we reached the starting area of the Endurance race – more or less by chance.

The starting distance was already very crowded. Endurance riding is a very popular equestrian sport in France and fans from all over the world travelled to this place for experiencing the touching moment when the race starts with all those splendid horses leaving ambitiously. And yes, the effort had been worth it, it was a magic moment. The minutes before the start the horse-rider pairs moved inside of the collecting ring, directly in front of the start/finish gate. You could see the dawn rising up, the black of the night turned into a morning blue. The last seconds were counted down before the riders with their horses, mainly Arabian horses, were sent out at 7:00 sharp through the gate into the part of the Normandy called La Manche.

A large screen was set up on the grandstand square, where you could follow the riders being filmed from the helicopter. A fantastic landscape, dotted with pretty country houses and manor houses. Towards noon the sun came out and warmed us until the early evening providing a fantastic day at the beach. No, not the ordinary beach tourism is meant, countless equestrian fans gathered at the viewpoints of the coast to catch a glimpse of the fascinating endurance horses with their riders. We – media people and fans waited for the first riders at the dream beach opposite the Mont Saint Michel for hours. And suddenly the helicopter minds the arrival of the riders on the beach. One from the United Arab Emirates, I think, was the first. Two more competitors galloped along the beach. The pace was much slower than seen in Eventing. No wonder, because the endurance horses have to cover a much longer distance of 160 kilometres. This is divided into phases; on each stop the horses are checked by veterinarians or are supplied with water and what else might be needed. Unfortunately the track conditions were so very bad after the heavy rainfall before the event had started, that only a few riders could reach the finish. Accidents occurred in which even a horse died immediately along the route: a tree or branch beneath the track have caused the accident. The rider from Costa Rica was seriously injured, undergoing surgery in hospital, but soon she was on her way to recovery. It is hard to believe that something as beautiful as the pictures of the horses on the beach is overshadowed by something so terribly sad.

WEG 2014 - Endurance rider riding a horse on the beach in front of Mont Saint Michel in France
Endurance rider riding a horse on the beach in front of Mont Saint Michel in France

The leaders were followed by a single rider with a grey horse, and other groups came riding along the beach with a time delay. The Endurance gold medal at the World Equestrian Games in France went to Spain, silver remained in France and bronze was won by Switzerland. The German team was not able to cope with the hard circumstances and was completely thrown out of the race. The award ceremony for team and individual riders (UAE, Netherlands, Qatar) was held in Caen during the break of the Grand Prix Freestyle Dressage competition. To see the Dressage I waited for hours with visitors who had come from Trinidad/Tobago in front of the stadium. No tickets with seat reservations were sold – why so? That would have avoided frightening conditions at the admission area with women almost fighting each other. Before you could even take a look at a horse or approach the stadium, you had already been annoyed, because it was anything but easy to at least find the stadium. Signposting here was also inadequate or insufficient. The atmosphere in the stadium was great again – the French audience cheered on the riders in addition to the national fans. Actually not beeing that attracted by freestyle , it sounds to me mostly too much like elevator music, I really liked the lively freestyle with 70’s/80’s Italo-Pop mix music, performed by Viktoria Max-Theurer and Augustin. The Swedish rider Tinne Vilhelmson Silfvén rode even more courageously straight forward. Desperados and Kristina Sprehe narrowly missed a medal place, while Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill were able to secure the silver medal behind Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin. Bella Rose and Isabell Werth retired early due to hoof problems after winning the team gold medal with the wonderful mare. As I learned from the mare’s breeder who, like many other visitors to the World Equestrian Games, was able to report numerous adversities and annoyances, the ground conditions here were not said to have been the best. The dressage ground in the Stadium d’Ornano had been too hard.

The landscape near Exmes in Normandy, France
The landscape near Exmes in Normandy, France

Directly from the Stade d’Ornano in Caen I went to the department l’Orne in the southwestern part of Normandy to see the eventers and their energetic horses in the area of the National Stud Haras du Pin the following day. In this region I got in touch with likeable kind people of Exmes, a village right next to Haras du Pin. The people of Exmes – Em, pronounced – helped me a lot after my accommodation in the region had collapsed. I had a very nice evening in the village community and got a roof over my head. Interesting conversations in English – some people from England settled in the area to enjoy their retirement in the middle of the beautiful landscape and a mix of my French, English and one or the other German word. So I learned directly from the people of this region that – believe it or not – a toxic waste landfill was built in this lovely area. Here mainly materials from the car industry are stored. What the active people need in the fight against the landfill, which is supposed to receive toxic waste from all over Europe for the next 17 years, is attention – spreading their concern beyond regional and national borders, money and means, legal and political support to stand up against a company like GDE.

Entrance of Le Haras du Pin - National stud in France at WEG - World Equestrian Games in France
The entrance of Le Haras du Pin – National stud in France

Agriculture, cattle breeding and an incredible number of estates with horse breeding for all branches of equestrian sports are operated in the region. Over the centuries, the region has been ruled by a life in and with nature. This balance is now disturbed to a considerable extent by the construction of the toxic waste landfill. A study carried out by the CNRS (France’s National Centre for Scientific Research) in 2012 showed that the gas emissions from such a landfill could affect human health. Toxic, cancer-causing substances are released into the air, soil, plants and animals – and thus into the human food chain. Influences on the hormonal system of humans and animals – including the horses living there – are expected around the Haras du Pin National Stud. In addition to the danger for humans and animals in general, the healthy existence of the historically grown horse breeding of this region is also endangered.

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Beautiful views around Exmes near Le Haras du Pin
Beautiful views around Exmes near Le Haras du Pin
Bar Tabac on the village road of Exmes in Normandy, France
Bar Tabac on the village road of Exmes in Normandy, France

Once you are in this area, don’t miss the chance to visit the beautiful village of Exmes, where no two houses are the same. It has a big church, a bakery, certainly one or two shops more, nice people and a large number of stud farms, where valuable horses are bred for riding and racing. The restaurant of Marie-France and Marc – a mixture of a café and shop for all kinds of daily needs, in a pretty corner house with attached Bar Tabac sign, cannot be overlooked in the middle of the village street. Here I enjoyed the best coffee during my journey through France.

Overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people of Exmes, I made my way early to the neighbouring Haras du Pin with its impressive chateau and hilly cross country course. With my early departure, I escaped the following traffic jam, which only allowed countless visitors to reach the area at noon and even in the early afternoon.

The World Equestrian Games in France offered terrible ground conditions for horse and rider – so it was at Haras du Pin, where it had rained for days. At the request of the riders, the course had already been defused, but these ground conditions still took all the energy off the horses. Some seemingly tired horses fought their way bravely through the course. Several couples did not make it to the finish due to falls and refusals. Even for the German team it was not easy to cope with the heavy conditions. The crowd cheered on the riders of all nations – the support was enormous and especially out of bound when the French rode past. This certainly helped the riders to get through the difficult course. According to the latest information, the sudden death of Wild Lone, Harry Meade’s horse, is not due to the ground conditions. After the successful completion of the course, the horse collapsed on the warm-up arena – an aortic demolition is suspected. Sad for the horse, tough for the rider. Even if these sudden deaths of horses caused by aortic demolition are due to demanding standards of the sport, such incidents have a very depressing effect.

Ingrid Klimke had a shock second with and Escada in the first water, but stickability helped her trough. She stayed in the saddle and the young mare pulled herself together, so both were quickly on the right track again. Escada gave everything, like the only nine-year-old Rocana ridden by Michael Jung and the relatively small chestnut horse ridden by Dirk Schrade. For this horse it was especially difficult in this muddy terrain to develop the necessary energy for his huge high jumps. The fast and powerful Hop and Skip aka Baxter, usually such a strong cross-country horse collected 20 jumping fault due to a refusal. Andreas Ostholt with the Westphalian So Is Et and Peter Thomsen with Barny, both had a clear round. By the way, not a single combination came home inside the time – it was all about completing. Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo aka Wolle were the last combination of the German team to start on the track and they showed up phenomenally with a clear round to secure the gold medal position for the German team. As we all know, Gold was won gloriously the next day in the final jumping of Caen with 4 clear rounds for the German team and individual Gold for Sandra Auffarth and Wolle, while Rocana and Michael Jung took Silver. The bronze medal was won by William Fox-Pitt. Team silver went to Great Britain and the Netherlands won Bronze.

As mentioned at the beginning, an alternation of emotions … hard losses, heavy conditions but also enchanting views of beautiful landscapes and last but not least wonderful horses and highly talented riders. The audience in the stadiums and in the Haras du Pin had been fantastic. The fans from all over the world and the French audience created a gigantic atmosphere.

Normandy is a region full of variety and with places worth seeing. Beautiful and a real recommendation: the garden of the Christian Dior Museum in Granville – colourful garden architecture, fantastic views of the sea. A staircase meanders down, almost to the water. Exquisite fragrances are not only produced by the blossoms in the garden; small fragrance stations have also been set up dedicated to the creations of the fashion designer and describing the inspiration of the master.

There is much to discover in Normandy – the French have a great talent for creating and staging beauty … there is sometimes a lack of function, as was felt at this World Equestrian Games in France – a true roller coaster of emotions.

Warten auf die Distanzreiter
La Manche Blick aufs Meer
La Manche im Garten des Musée Christian Dior
La Manche – Segelboot
La Dune
La Dune
Le Haras du Pin – Naturtoiletten beim Eventing
1. September 2019 Off