Once in Caen, I walked to the house of my new Couch Surfing host, a girl about my age who lives with her parents and is working at a booth at the WEG. They were immediately pleasant and welcoming, and I settled into a room for the next few nights.
My host, Marie, was also a vegetarian and we discussed that amazing veggie burger that we have both discovered in the Games Village. I didn’t have anything planned so I went to the ticket booth to see if there were any more tickets for the individual vaulting finals. As I was walking there, someone in a different line said she had an extra ticket if I wanted to buy it, since she wasn’t sure if there were any more for sale. I jumped on that, and barely cared that she charged me 4€ more than she paid for it…. Still worth it! This event, while still vaulting, was a freestyle which showed off each athlete’s strengths. I had seen many of the women perform a few days before, but all of the men were new to me. It was like watching someone dance on the back of a horse, occasionally throwing in a trick riding move of jumping off the horse and back on in the same movement. The women’s winner, Joanna Eccles, is definitely deserving of the title and it is not her first win at the WEGs either! The male silver medalist, Nicolas Andreani, was French and was dressed up like Einstein. I thought he fell off which would have been major points off, but either it was part of his routine or he covered it so well that people fell for it.
I wandered over to a short music festival that had a woman with gray hair and sunglasses playing the bari sax as backup in the band. I was so excited. I then was able to talk my way in to the evening part of the vaulting, since my ticket said “Vaulting PM” but was only technically supposed to work for the Freestyle and not the Team event. I was reeeeally impressed that it worked out and I got to see the team vaulting, which is like gymnastics/dance/cheerleading on horses. Usually they have young girls, boys, or small women at the top of their pyramids and that person is called the “Flyer.” Below is the French team, who came in third but I think did the best job. Their Flyer is 13 year old Robin Krausse and he was pretty damn good. It was so much fun to see what new (to me) things people do with horses! Humans are a creative bunch.
I had taken a bike from my hosts in order to get to the games and ended up biking home in the dark, wearing all black (none of that was intentional guys). I did get lost for a bit but I found my way and learned a valuable lesson: one cannot ride a bike and read a map at the same time.
The next morning I biked to the course for carriage driving and only got minimally lost. This event, again, blew my mind a little bit. There were many different areas with different types of obstacle tests (at least 7 that I saw). I camped out at the first one I saw for quite a while and got to move closer and closer as other people migrated away. From that vantage point, I could see the left and right lead horses split a pole if they were not entirely sure which direction the driver was telling them to go. If they whole team went the wrong way it was really hard to get the trap to back up but if just one or two of the horses did then the horses carefully backed up and went the right way through the obstacles. It was a complicated pattern, which didn’t help matters. I moved to see all of the other tests and my favorite one, besides my starting point, was the one which involved a water course.
I’m not ashamed at all to say that I went back to the Games Village for another one of the fantastic veggie burgerrrrrrs. I had one last horse event in store at the WEGs. There is an English educator who has a program called Horses Inside Out in which she paints different body parts on the horse and does demonstrations. In this particular one, she painted the bones of the horse for a dressage demonstration. In a nearby tent there was footage of a horse painted with the digestive system and an explanation of how to keep horses healthy.
It was my last day and I spent a lot of time sitting on the grass reminiscing about all of the different forms of horsemanship I had seen in France thus far competitions and side-shows: para-dressage, show jumping, both individual and team vaulting, carriage driving; horse ball, exhibitions at two breeding grounds, horses used as garbage trucks, police horses, medieval war reenactors, trick riding, horse training “at liberty,” and horses used as educational tools. Then there were the random things like the small man with the team of six miniature horses pulling his carriage, the pony that had dragon wings painted on his side for photos, or the horse with a floor-length mane that posed seated in a chair for photos. For each of these performances, I encountered something completely different from my own way of relating to horses, and I sometimes questioned the ethics of their training methods or even the event itself. All in all, there is even more variety and creativity in horse performance and competition than I expected. I left my last day at the World Equestrian Games satisfied that, even if I didn’t get to shadow or interview any competitors, my eyes had still been opened to some of the wonders of the horse world.
Even if I was done with the WEGs, I wasn’t quite through with horses in France. My friend Karel (remember her from other posts? Friendly French girl who was a WEG volunteer) offered for me to come visit her home in Brittany. We drove to the west of France, stopped at the house to pick up the dogs, then went to the stable for her to ride her horse. That was the first time I’d seen a horse on a treadmill. After seeing such high-class competitors with their fancy horses and their difficult disciplines, it was refreshing to see a normal person in an average barn loving her FREAKISHLY TALL horse. Over the next three days we saw someone else ride her horse (as a potential candidate for borrowing him while she studies abroad), walked around adorable Breton villages (Douarnenez and Locronan), played in the sea with the dogs, and watched a lot of Friends together. It was delightful for someone who was a stranger two weeks ago to let me have a glimpse of her life, and it didn’t hurt that there was also sunshine, horses, dogs, and the sea. I lost a foot race to a dog named Jazz, squealed as I stepped on too many squishy things at the beach, played a new card game, and learned to say marc’h (horse) in Breton. It was such a change from the hyper-formal competitions I’d seen, but primarily I had fun in seeing what someone else’s “normal” consists of in everyday life. I was sad to say goodbye to my friend when she took me to the train station, but that is the nature of my life right now. I’m not sure if it is getting easier as I go along.
Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle in Locranan
Back in Paris, this marks the first time I’ve gotten to say goodbye to new friends and then see them again! Remember the friendly, impressively hospitable couple that I met in Kyrgyzstan? I hung out in a park by the Louvre waiting for them to get home from work, and then we went for a really fun dinner (but I can never seem to represent great conversation into even a decent blog post). Since I had missed the Louvre my previous time in Paris, Aurelion and I went and saw all the highlights. I also got a chance to see the view from the top of the Notre Dame, saw Guardians of the Galaxy (first movie theatre outside the U.S. for me!) and had a meeting with a fellow horsey anthropologist I’ve found online. It was a happy few days in Paris, primarily because I had such warm companions to share it with. As much as I was enjoying the sun and culture of France, I needed to move on to somewhere further outside of my cultural and temperature comfort zone. Next up, Iceland.