I had tickets to jumping (yay!) but lived pretty far away from the city center (boo!) so it took me an hour by tram and bus to get to the arena. As it turns out, watching show jumping is stressful for me. For the jumps that I had the best view of, I would get a knot in the pit of my stomach as soon as the horse’s feet left the ground that only untied itself when their hooves returned to terra firma. It was exciting to hear the audible groan from the crowd (in an otherwise solid minute and a half of silence) whenever a competitor knocked down a fence. I had learned already that “oxer” is the type of jump which is longer, so I at least had a word for that. Otherwise I observed that the first three jumps seemed the simplest, and the most difficult looked to be those which were spaced the closest since that required the strides be just right in between. The worst performance I saw involved someone knocking down six fences in their course.
I hopped on one of the WEG shuttles to the Games Village, where I stopped in at the Ariat boot booth. The week before I showed them my shoelace keeper which had busted in Paris, and they said to stop by later to see if they can replace it for free. That was ample incentive to get me to drop in, and . . . They replaced the boots for free! I am very pleased with their commitment to their product and my satisfaction as a customer. I have no idea if it was my backstory (I’ve had the shoes less than two months, and they really need to make it another ten before busting) that got me the swap, but I highly appreciate the result. Now my black boots match my black cowboy hat, and I feel one step closer to a wardrobe that clashes less horrendously.
After lunch of the best veggie burger ever, I watched a women’s competition of vaulting in which they all performed the same routine on horseback. To the uninitiated, (as I was a few days before) equestrian vaulting looks like a combination of interpretive dance, gymnastics, and trick riding. The vaulter, lunger (person making the horse go in a circle) and horse all enter the ring together, the music starts, and the vaulter trots out to the horse. I say “trot” because they run alongside the horse mimicking his stride before grabbing handles and hoisting themselves up on his back. I was amazed throughout every rendition, even though I had no idea what criteria was used to determine an excellent performance. My favorite vaulter was a Russian woman, and I got chill bumps watching; she wasn’t even in the top 10. Even though the routines were identical, I was never bored. I left the stadium that afternoon quite content with my level of knowledge of vaulting, which was limited, but astounded by the beauty of a woman standing up on the back of a galloping horse.
I made the trek back to the apartment and chatted with my host, who was writing a fanzine in preparation for an anime convention. Karel picked me up, and we drove an hour away to Haras du Pin, one of France’s national stud farms. They are responsible for the upkeep of French breeds, like the “Selle Francais” or the French saddle horse, Percheron, and Norman Cob. They also have some Anglo-Arabs, Arabians, Lippizzaner’s, etc. Karel has a friend from her old stable that works at the stud farm now (Tiphaine), and we were invited to come visit for an evening. We noticed the friend’s phone was turned off once we reached the town, and we didn’t have directions to her house. Since it was such a small town, we drove to the Haras and asked of the first person if they happened to know where Tiphaine kept her horse…? Surprisingly, that worked, and we found her and her puppy at her stables. We drove a few minutes to Tiphaine apartment, which is a five minute walk away from her work. Taking the puppy, Joey, with us, we walked to the grounds and received an unofficial (French) tour. I saw the backstage area of the school, where people learn to be horse trainers, carriage drivers, and saddle makers. This was the location of the cross-country eventing about a week before, and I learned that a horse died after he crossed the finish line. More on that later. Another girl came over to hang out and, since I couldn’t understand French, I spent most of the night stalking the kitten and trying to convince him that he loves me.
Karel had work the next afternoon, so we went to the Haras for the museum, grabbed lunch, and she went on her way. Getting lunch was a bit difficult since the Haras is in a town of less than 400 people, but after driving literally in a circle, we found a restaurant. I got dropped off at the apartment with the puppy and the kitten, who is by this point a fan of McKenna. I was in hog heaven. Later in the afternoon I had a formal tour of the grounds in which I learned that the Haras was founded in 1715, they currently have their first woman director, and that the Percheron was mainly bred for meat after the advent of the tractor. In the evening there was a going-away party for the students (misspoken as a “go-away party”) in which I chatted with a French/Irish woman who is a vet at the Haras and her husband is a trainer. I was also befriended by a gray-haired man, Gilles, who rides dressage and show jumping, and was one of the flag bearers for the opening ceremony of the Games. He said the most profound thing about the Percheron: “If we do not eat it, the breed will disappear.” As mentioned in the tour, the French people did not know what to do with their large breed after they were replaced with farm equipment. Gilles indicated that people were invested in their draft horse but, like many people in the 1940’s, did not know what their horses would be used for in the future. Other solutions included breeding shows, competitions, police work, and pleasure riding. Farming for food would never have crossed my mind, but I am sure it is not a unique resolution.
I left the party early due to the limited number of English speakers, and grabbed the kitten from off the roof before I went to bed.
It was my last day at the Haras. I watched a riding presentation which had two horse trainers doing some trick riding stuff, as well as an exhibition of the French breeds which are maintained there. My friend Gilles from the night before was showing the Selle Francais (French Saddle Horse) in dressage alongside a woman who rode side saddle. She made it look SO COOL. Since I wrote far more of my thesis than I’d planned on the influence of side saddle on women’s relationships to horses and freedom, it was a treat to see a woman ride (and jump) competently and make it look easy.
Tiphaine was in Caen for the day and offered to drive me to the train station when she got back that night, but she got stuck in major traffic. She called a friend to come get me, and I was driven by the assistant director of the Haras to the train station. It was quite fun to pick her brain about how the eventing had gone the week before, how she likes her job, etc. I asked the question I don’t particularly enjoy getting: “Do you ride every day?” Instead of grumbling like me that she doesn’t have the time but she wishes she did, she replied, “Yes, I have to!” Her horse is kept in a stall and only turned out for part of the day, and if she does not ride him, then he does not get enough exercise. In that way it is somewhat of a chore to ride, instead of a treat. I do believe that is the kind of interesting difference I am meant to encounter on this Watson year. Over and out.