September 2, 2010--In 2014, the FEI World Equestrian Games will be held in Caen in Normandy, France, during the anniversary of the Normandy invasion of World War II. And it's not too early to begin planning your trip.
Basse-Normandie (Lower Normandy) is an equestrian's delight with historic stables and spectator events from harness and flat racing to polo, show jumping and more. And, of course, there are also are the things that make France, and particularly Normandy, a wonderful place to visit--local cheeses, French bread, delicious wine, charming 17th- and 18th-century country cottages, miles of white sandy beaches and historic villages around every corner.
On a recent trip to preview the venues for the 2014 World Equestrian Games, I was introduced to just a few of the very special equestrian sites in Basse-Normandie. Here's a quick preview of why a trip to Normandy either before or during the Games is a must:
The French National Studs--two of these are in Basse-Normandie. The first, Le Pin, was built by Louis XIV to house his horses outside Paris and thus is known as the "Versailles for horses." Today it is a 2,500- acre estate dedicated to equine events and to the preservation and growth of the French horse breeds, especially Thoroughbreds and French Trotters (similar to Standardbreds in the U.S.). The Stud owns 40 stallions and is responsible for half of France's racehorse population. The stables are original and house both the stallions and a number of horses used for a special parade of horses every Thursday during the summer. The estate is also the site of numerous equestrian events as well as an equine museum, an historic chateau and a unique race course (featured in the recent movie on Coco Chanel).
The second National Stud in Basse Normandie is in the center of the town of Saint-Lo. Built in 1806, the Saint-Lo National Stud was the first National Stud--and today is the largest. Dedicated to the breeding of Selle Francais (the French warmblood), as well as Norman Cob and Percheron, the Stud stands 60 stallions and is the center of sport horse breeding and promotion. It also hosts numerous equestrian competitions each year.
Deauville--This popular French resort on the English Channel is home to two of France's leading racetracks, which host polo as well as flat, harness and jump races. The original track, la Touques, is right in the center of this historic town, which is well worth a trip for its beaches, historic luxury hotels and wonderful architecture. Also in Deauville is the site of a new equestrian center, Le Pole International du Cheval, due to open this fall. Primarily financed by various French governmental bodies, the new center will include a riding school, boarding facilities, three indoor and three outdoor arenas and a restaurant. The center expects to attract international show jumping and dressage events and host international teams preparing for the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 WEG, as well as serving the local equestrian community. The design and facilities make it well worth a visit.
Graignes Racecourse--A wonderful family outing, complete with barbeque and fireworks, can be had at this racecourse dedicated to trotters. Races are held throughout the year, and the course also is home to a school for training drivers and jockeys. One of the fun sights is races with jockeys riding the trotters rather than driving. Fireworks--a family favorite-are scheduled after the evening race cards.
One of the fascinating aspects of the horse industry in Normandy and all of France is the central role played by governmental bodies, from national and regional government support of WEG 2014 to events sponsored by the area towns and cities. Everything from the 23 National Studs to state-of-the-art equine research centers and, most recently, university programs dedicated to equine employment is government-supported.
Through the "Horse Industry Economic Cluster," Normandy aims to have horses play a critical role in economic development through cooperation between industry, research and education. This concept appears to be the first of its kind in the world, and Normandy has taken the leading role in its development. One cannot help but admire the facilities at the new international equestrian center in Deauville, the breeding facilities in historic settings at du Pin and St. Lo and the veterinary research centers near Caen. All of which, together with all that is uniquely French, make Normandy an ideal travel destination anytime, but especially for the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games.
For more information about Normandy and its equestrian and tourist facilities, be sure to visit the Normandy pavilion at this year's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.