Keeping Horses in France may seem daunting at first, but it need not be!
It’s about time I share with you one of my huge 2020 moments…
2020 was not too kind to people both physically and mentally, and I made the decision to adopt two young French Trotters, bringing horses back into my life. There have been ups and down in the process of owning horses in France and I have learned so much along the way and now feel confident enough to share with you all (the internet) things I wish I knew when I first brought the boys home.
Luckily for me, Normandy is horse country, and keeping a horse here is not as difficult as it may seem. So let me introduce you to 2/4 of my horses!
This post will also mention finding a good vet, Farriers in France, and Livery vs Home Stabling!
Rescue French Trotters
Meet my French Trotters Bijoux and Brigadier. At the time of adoption, they were 14 and 15 months old, meaning that they were ungelded yearlings, and for some reason or other, did not make the cut to be a trotting racehorse. These two were lucky as they ended up being picked up by a horse refuge, where I was able to pay the fees to the abattoir and adopt them.
The racing industry in France can be very brutal in the standards young horses have to meet for racing, the foals have to meet speed requirements, growth, and height requirements amongst other standards and if they don’t meet the mark, they are used for other sports, hobbyist or in some cases, sold for slaughter. Unfortunately, it is not against the law and just how things are here, so being able to give a second chance to these two is the best way to help currently.
However, be sure to know that sometimes these horses are sent to slaughter for health reasons, so make sure to have them checked or be prepared to pay the cost of medical treatment.
Brigadier & Bijoux
Back to the boys. As you can see they are both wonderful chestnuts, Bijoux dressed up in three socks and a blaze, Brigadier sporting the classic all-over chestnut coat. Brigadier is the taller of the two and we predicted him to be nearer to 16.2hh fully grown and Bijoux will maybe make 16hh. (Currently, Brigadier stands at 17.2hh and Bijoux is still 15.1hh.)
When I first met them, they were terribly underweight and frightened, very unsure about what was happening in their surroundings. I didn’t approach them, they approached me, Bijoux shoving his head on my chest and sighing deeply. From that moment I thought, he’s got to come home with me.
Of course, at this point in time, I hadn’t been around horses for three years, let alone young OTTB stallions. We have made it work to be sure. Over the first few weeks with them, I managed to get them to lead on pressure cues, turn away, and towards me when asked as well as somehow get them to load and unload into a trailer.
They had been handled before, luckily they are not head-shy and are easily caught for putting on a head collar and lead rope. The biggest thing that I noticed about them, was their trusting nature. This is a trait that most French trotters have as well as their hardiness and cool temperament.
I keep all 4 of my horses in livery close by and they are thriving. At the point of writing this post, we are currently working on Brigadier to build muscle and strength to be broken in. Bijoux, unfortunately, suffered nerve damage when he was a foal so we will not be breaking him in and instead of doing some gentle liberty training.
IFCE, Registration, Ownership, Licencing
The overseeing body for everything horse in France is the IFCE – Institut Francais du Cheval et l’equitation. If you are importing a horse from another country, you need to declare them with IFCE to receive a french registration number (SIRE no.) for your equine. On this site you also need to declare births, deaths, and coverings related to your horses. Change of ownership is also recorded on this site. For a change of ownership you will need the apporiate documents as well as a bill of sale/change of ownership form signed by both seller and buyer.
IFCE do have their information in english as well as well as having efficient customer service. (From personal experience).
To ride a horse in France you need a license. These are obtained either individually through the FFE – Fédération Française d’Equitation or through a stables/club. The licenses last for a year and cover you for all sorts of accidents.
Finding a Good Vet
Not all vets are equally passionate about large animals, let alone horses. Normandy is a bovine-dominated farming industry, with horses coming second to cows. Unfortunately, this means the “large animal” vets are often bovine-orientated. All is not lost though as there are also some fantastic horse vets out there. The best bet is to ask at the local vet clinic if they do cover horses, or else head to Facebook groups!
Normandy in particular has some amazing equine clinics near Deauville, Falaise, and Saint-Lo with hospitals specifically for our horse friends. Falaise horse hospital is a training school as well and has access to some really interesting and cool equipment too!
In the UK I always used to cringe at vet bills for my cat so you can imagine what a horse’s vet bill would look like… Here in Normandy, I have found the bills to be priced well and not bank-breaking. To give an example, the two-yearly vaccinations (flu-tetanus and rhino) cost me 70 euros for two horses. An IV sedation for a 650kg horse is around 45 euros. X-rays and ultrasounds vary from vet to vet, I have seen bills ranging from 75 euros to 600 euros! Best to get a quote for this before.
In personal experience, I had an awful encounter with a vet who refused to treat a deep cut on Bijoux’s leg as he was too dangerous. Bijoux was 17 months old at this point and had bouts of being tricky to handle, especially around men and new things. The vet approached him in a plastic gown that was flapping in the wind and spooked him so that he reared up. In the end, the vet left without treating the horse, and 10 minutes passed and the horse was calm and docile. Safe to say I found another vet who actually likes horses now.
Le maréchal-ferrant. Again there are good, there are bad. Luckily I have only encountered good farriers and heard horror stories of the bad. The best way to find a farrier is to be in livery as they will have a guaranteed good farrier, or else ask your local vet as they usually work with them for correcting leg ailments.
Some farrier vocab to get you started:
Back: arrière / postérieur
Narrow heel: Pied serré
Toeing out: Panard
Dishing / paddling: Billardage
Shoeing pad: Plaque de ferrue
Rasp: Râpe à sabots
A trim will cost you between 35-45 euros, and shoeing costs more depending on the work.
Livery versus Home
Waking up in the morning to open the windows and look across the fields to see your equine faces smiling up at you? Or glaring up at you as it is 7:30 in the morning and breakfast is still not served? Living at home is best. For keeping horses at home there are certain welfare laws in place in France that need to be considered.
Each horse has to have at least 1 hectare dedicated to it for field arrangements. This does not mean the horse always has to be in 1 hectare of space constantly, just have the minimum of this space for field rotation.
Horses must have access to food, water, and shelter. If you do not have a shelter (abri) then horses turned out in the cooler months must be rugged up. Normandy is either really rainy or warm so having a good source of hay for your equine friends is essential during mud season and dust season.
Finding Livery for your horse is a good alternative if you do not have good grazing or need time away from the 24/7 horse life. In Normandy, there are a wealth of stables for boarding so take your time finding the right fit. There are many different types of stables, and not all take on private owners/boarders. Look for “Pension privée” (private board) if you want private stables without riding school, or “club” for riding school stables. Other “haras” include specialist riding such as show jumping and racing, these usually are more expensive and selective in their boarders.
Pricing for livery ranges from 110 euros/month for pasture and 380 euros/month all-inclusive and upwards depending on the stables.
Livery Vocabulary to get you started:
Field / pasture livery: la pension pré
Stall livery: la pension box
Half Livery: Demi-pension
Foaling livery: Pensions Poulinières
Breaking in: Debourrage
If you have any questions about keeping horses in France, horse life in France/Europe, or any other agricultural questions drop them below in the comments!