How easy is it to take your horses and go and jump at a French show? What are the shows like?
The shows in France are categorised, like in the UK. International shows are run under FEI rules, and National shows are run under FFE (Federation Francais d’Equitation). To compete at an FEI show riders need an FEI licence, and any horse with an FEI passport is eligible with the permission of it’s National governing body.
The National circuit is huge in France, with 80% of it’s licence holders competing in Showjumping. The facilities are great, most shows are run on good artificial surfaces, and the prize money can be generous – our local show has a Grand Prix with 5,000.00€ 1st prize! The National classes start at 90cm and go up to 1m40. Riders compete in categories – starting with club (like unaffiliated) , through Amateur 3, 2 and 1, and on to Professional 2, 1 and elite. Riders can place themselves in a category, and successful riders are moved up through the levels based on their results. Pro riders are not allowed to compete in Am 3 or 2 level competitions.
All National riders have to have a licence, which costs around 36.00€, in order to to compete at shows. This is renewed every year and a local FFE affiliated riding club will sort all this for you. Plus a fee depending on the level that you want to ride at. Club level is free, Amateur 80.00€ and Pro 330.00€ per year, at the moment.
Horses all have to be registered in France and have a SIRE number allocated. This is for life, and a one off registration. This costs around 35.00€ and the horse would need a passport or ID card, and a vet has to verify it. The SIRE number is then printed on the passport, and you get an official ID card. This is all done by Les Haras Nationaux – the blanket organisation that covers the equestrian world in France (some of the staff speak English!). Licence holders get a page on their site for entering shows and collecting prize money, receiving start lists and any show update information. Every horse’s details and competition records are also accessed on their site.
Next time I’ll look at how the show system works.
The day before the show make a list of stuff you will take – many a rider has arrived at a show minus their jacket or a girth! It’s really important to have someone with you, a horse holder, practise jump assistant and general supporter…..and great if your instructor can come too.
On the day of the show, give yourself plenty of time – you’ll probably be in the 1st class so get ready for an early start. Load a couple of well filled haynets and a water bucket, tack, horse – and then check your list!
When you arrive get yourself entered, ready and on board. Have walk around the lorry parking, and then go and check out the warm up area, get yourself and your horse used to it while it’s quiet. If your horse is experienced he’ll be familiar with the practise arena and the mayhem that can go on in there. The early small classes will often have less experienced riders and novice horses, this can lead to some very random riding…. Make the best of having some time and space – have a canter round and pop a few crosses, and a small vertical or two. Remember to put a rug your horse when you stop to walk the course – ask your assistant to keep him walking round – you want him to be warm and comfortable.
As you compete more, you will become better at knowing what is needed to prepare yourself and your horse for the competition arena, often less is more. An older horse, a long journey, a cold day… may require more gentle loosening up and stretching flatwork before you use the practise jump. A spooky youngster may be similar, except they can quickly get tired. A lunge before leaving home, and then walking round with an experienced buddy at the show can relax them before you prepare to start jumping.
Ask your assistant to let you know when the course is ready for walking, and also to have a look at the board to see how many riders have put their number down to jump. You probably want to put yourself around 10th to go, so you can watch a couple of rounds and then get ready to jump. Walk the course carefully and alone, or with your trainer – this is not the time for a chat with friends. Pay attention to turns out of corners, and see where you have a bit of space for re-organising if necessary. Have a plan where you will set off in your ‘competition canter’ – well before you go through the start, so you’re in a positive forward rhythm. Make absolutely sure you know where you are going. Watch the first couple of competitors go, and mentally note any tricky turns or lines.
If you have already had a good canter, and a few small jumps, your horse is not far off being ready to jump in the ring. You will be nervous, but that’s OK, feel confident in your preparation and knowing that you have done everything you can. Have a plan with your trainer or practise jump assistant about the jumps you need outside. Generally, a couple of verticals, a couple of narrow oxers and then a bigger vertical, similar to the height in the competition, should be enough for your horse, especially if you have 2 classes to jump in. If you have enough room, try and find your ‘competition canter’ for your practise jumping. Your target is a confident and forward thinking horse under you. Leave all the advanced practise jump ‘tuning’ to the professionals – that’s another world!
So, you’re next to jump. Try not to stand by the door too long, it’s better for you and your horse to be moving and thinking forward. Good manners usually means the rider exiting the arena will wait for you to enter before leaving, but don’t take that for granted! Deep breath, touch your horse on the neck and reassure him, and in you go.
Jumping in competitions could be the main objective – if you are naturally confident and competitive. For other riders, it’s not about rivalry – it’s about challenging yourself, and your horse. It’s a measure of your training and your riding skills, as well as trying to keep a cool head under pressure. Most of all it’s fun, and you are sharing the experience with your trusted friend.
Consider the early days of competing as experience – learn from mistakes and don’t dwell on them. Be realistic about your capabilities, and stay in control of everything that you can. Be as well prepared as possible.
Practising at a suitable venue is vital as you get ready for your first show experience. Many show centres will let you hire their arena for training, often with a full show jumping course set up. Arrange a lesson with your instructor at the venue and build up to jumping a course at a height comfortable for you and your horse. Have a couple of sessions if you can, close to your show date, so both you and your horse have the memories fresh in your minds.
Before the show make a list of stuff you will take – many a rider has arrived at a show minus their jacket or a girth! Arrange to have someone with you, a horse holder, practise jump assistant and general supporter…..and great if your instructor can come too.
A club, or an unaffiliated show will usually offer classes from 55 – 90cms. The judges and course builders are usually volunteers and organisers. The courses are generally less technical, but the distances may vary as trying to cater from 12.2hh to 16.2hh is very tricky! These shows are great to get you started, you and your horse have lot to learn about ‘ringcraft’, and the size of the jumps is not important.
As your confidence develops you can be more ambitious…shows affiliated to British Showjumping (BS) start at 90cms, and the smaller classes run a novice and open section concurrently. The course builder must be registered, and the judges are BS qualified. The jumps will be more imposing, with bigger fillers and wider spreads, but the distances will be consistent and the more technical tracks challenging and fun!
If you want to compete regularly at affiliated shows, both horse and rider will need to be registered with BS. However, you can buy a ‘ticket to ride’ if you want to have a go before registering – to jump on a ticket you simply arrive and enter at your show as usual and state clearly that you are riding on a ticket, you can then purchase your ticket when you enter.
Next time we will look at the show day, and how to get a key element right – the practise jump.