Today was VE Day, the second of the four jours de fête in May. As it is Ascension Day tomorrow many people manage to make the whole week a holiday.
At the memorial for VE Day
To commemorate VE Day the good folk of Cortambert met at the memorial for a service with the Maire and the pompiers. All were invited back to the Mairie for the vin de l’amitié and some excellent cake, the French savoury kind with ham and olives.
We didn’t stay long though as we were due at the stables at Laizé to help judge the cross country competition. The concours complet is like a three day event with showjumping, dressage and cross country.
The weather was a little unsettled, hot and sunny one minute, cloudy and humid the next with a few spots of rain inbetween. Our friend Axelle came prepared for whatever the weather might be.
Ready for the cold, the rain and the sun
We were posted to watch two obstacles. One was called the Coffin which was a jump down into a dip where there was something akin to an open grave. After this was a steep slope out with a fence at the top. The other jump was the Toboggan which was an obstacle at the top of a steep rise.
Approaching the Coffin
The judging was easy, the afternoon peaceful and a perfect day finished off with a meal with our pony club friends and our instructors in the clubhouse. This time not typical French food like in Lyon on Sunday but a very welcome chilli con carne!
What a horrible weekend! I thought summer had arrived but I was wrong.
You had to be an enthusiast to be out and about. After an unbearably hot Thursday the temperature plummeted and it rained most of Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday afternoon it even snowed!
Unfortunately it was the weekend for one of the biggest horse events of the year in Cluny, the four day Open de Bourgogne featuring the regional pony clubs. 1500 riders had enrolled, including 700 children for the pony games. There was the usual jumping and dressage events but also carriage racing, voltige, horse carrousel, Western riding, endurance and horseball.
We watched some of the pony games to pick up some tips. We occasionally play pony games as an end of term treat at Laizé. It’s best to check that the girth is tight and don’t get the pony so excited that it gallops off when you are trying to get back on board. Some of the girls could just swing up into the saddle no matter how fast the horse was going. Would that I could but I think I’m a bit too old for that!
The wind certainly has changed for the better and gone round to the south so we’ve had a lovely sunny weekend. Perfect for the final two days of showjumping at Cluny. The first two days were grim so I don’t suppose that the icecream vendor setting up in the pouring rain on Thursday ever envisaged the never-ending queue for cornets by Sunday.
The show is part of the Grand National where France’s top riders compete in teams of two at various venues during the summer in jumping, eventing and dressage. At the end of the season the points awarded to each team are added up to find the champions of 2013.
The jumps were enormous, higher than the horses’ heads. So there were plenty of thrills and spills. We met our riding instructor there who asked if we could guess what we might be doing for our next lesson!
One way or another we’ve had quite a horsey week. Our grandchildren from Scotland have been with us and one of their favourite occupations has been to come and help feed the horses which we are looking after for our neighbours.
Last Sunday we went up to the stables at Laizé for the circus day. For a while we watched the children learning tricks on the horses then took ourselves off for a walk with our favourite Shetland pony, Blondie.
The children seem to like our life in the country with the animals. We hope that when they are old enough they will be able to spend their whole summer holiday with their Mamie and Papi just like the French kids do.
Trotting racing is very popular in France, more so than flat racing or steeplechasing. We were at the Hippodrome in Cluny this week watching the racing with friends who hadn’t been before and as they asked us how to study the form we learned quite a bit from trying to decipher the programme.
The trotters warm up
Before each race while the horses warmed up I would normally just look at them passing by and pick one according to its looks and behaviour. But as it was a quiet day with not too many horses running we had time to evaluate past performances and disqualifications. The little symbols took a bit of working out but they revealed a surprising amount of information about the horses and their jockeys.
Horses are named according to the year in which they were born. All the four-year-olds’ names began with a U and the three-year-olds’ with a V. So you can easily work out the age of a horse from its name.
On the home straight
The important consideration is the previous wins or disqualifications. A judge sitting in the open door of a van watches to see that the horses do not depart from their trotting gait. Several did, at least in the 4-year-olds’ race. I had read that there are two particular irregular gaits, the amble and the traquenard. The amble is when the horse trots with its back legs and gallops at the front. The traquenard is the reverse, galloping with the back legs and trotting with the front. I was interested to see how this could be done as I couldn’t really imagine it, but the horses we saw that became a bit too enthusiastic just seemed to gallop at full pelt on all legs.
A little horseshoe symbol showed that the horse might be unshod. This reduction in weight sometimes helps the horse trot faster. Also the head may be reined to a particular height to suit the horse. Blinkers help to keep the horse from being distracted. One horse I saw had one eye completely covered, whether by accident or design I do not know.
It was a hot afternoon and afterwards the horses were taken for a cooling shower.
A welcome shower after the race
As I did not pick a single winner I’m not sure that studying the form did me much good. I think I’ll stick to backing the pretty ones.
By the way we see some lovely thoroughbreds in the fields locally. Of course the national stud is at Cluny only a few kilometers away and we are at the centre of a horse breeding area. But until yesterday I hadn’t realised that Neptune Collonges, the winner of the 2012 Grand National, is a local horse. Horses tend to be named after where they were raised and Collonges is within a stone’s throw across the Grosne valley.