Light Horse Breeds Endemic to France
The Selle Francais, Norman Cob and French Trotter
France has a number of horse breeds, including heavy draft, light saddle horses and ponies, native to its shores. Some are well known like the Percheron, Breton and the white pony of the Camague. Others, such as the Trait du Nord, Boulonnais, Norman Cob, Poitevin, Comtois, Auxois, Merens, Landais and Basque are prized in regional areas but not so well known in the outside world.
Light saddle breeds include the Selle Francais, French trotter and Norman Cob.
Selle Francais means 'saddle horse'. The breed was principally developed as a show jumper. The horse is the natural descendant of the ancient Norman breed, bred in Normandy and certainly present in the Middle Ages. Heavy local mares were crossed with Arabians and other oriental breeds which had been brought to France after the Crusades. The Norman was a very useful warhorse but the quality of the breed deteriorated following indiscriminate crossing with Danish and German heavy horses. From the 17th century to the early 19th century, English thoroughbred, Arabian and Norfolk Roadster blood improved the breed a great deal. In the early 1800s, Young Rattler, a thoroughbred from England, had a huge influence on (and is regarded as the foundation sire of) the Norman breed. Young Rattler also sired Normand, regarded as the foundation sire of the French Trotter.
This improved horse became known as the Anglo-Norman and was the forebear of the French Trotter. The Anglo-Norman incorporated three types. There was a heavy type useful as a draft and cavalry animal, a riding type and a trotting type. After many ups and downs the riding type has now settled to become the Selle Francais. Athleticism, toughness and common sense are the hallmarks of the Selle Francais. They are of variable character, generally docile but energetic and willing. There are now five types, each of which is distinguished by its weight-bearing capacity. The mediumweights divide into three groups: small (not over 15.1hh), medium (15.1hh to 16hh) and large (over 16hh). The two heavyweight types are small (up to 16hh) and large (over 16hh).
It was bred to be a competition horse and good general riding horse. It excels at show-jumping, hunting, cross-country and eventing. It is a sturdy horse of robust build. Colour is usually bay, black or chestnut with an occasional grey. The head is handsome and well set on with a straight profile, long ears set well apart and open nostrils. The eyes are deep-set. The neck is long and well muscled. The legs are solid with clean joints and short cannons.
Another French breed which is well respected by the French is the Norman Cob. This is a true cob type with clean legs but it is considerably bigger in the body than a true cob. It is used as a working horse in France mainly in agriculture and transportation. Normandy has always been a noted area for horse-breeding. The Norman Cob was developed in the 17th century to fill a need for a horse suitable for riding, carriage work and light draft work. Today's Norman Cob is a good all-rounder, strong enough for draft work but also a good ride. The breed is highly regarded and has strength and stamina. It exudes quality and even the largest are not sluggish or plodding. It is not often found outside its homeland. It is an attractive, energetic mover and holds its head high and proudly. The muzzle and nostrils tend to be small. Chestnut, brown and bay are most common with occasional greys and roans. It is taller than a true cob, standing from 15.3hh to 16.3hh.
Trotting races are extremely popular in France with races held for both ridden and harness horses. The French Trotter is bred almost exclusively for the trotting track. Those destined to trot in harness are generally slightly smaller than ridden trotters.
The French Trotter is quiet but energetic, a sturdy horse of robust and powerful build standing between 15.1 and 16.2hh. The overall impression is that of a substantial thoroughbred. He is commonly bay, black, chestnut and occasionally grey. The head is handsome and well set on, with a straight or slightly convex profile. The ears are long and set well apart. The neck is muscular and broad at the base. The chest is wide and deep with a nicely sloping shoulder.
The French Trotter is also known as the Norman Trotter. Early in its history a determining role was played by the Norfolk Roadster, English Thoroughbred and Hackney. Later the Orlov and American Standardbred also had a lasting influence. The French Trotter differs from the American Trotter as it is has greater endurance and is slower in its development. The Stud Book began in 1922 and has been strictly controlled since 1941.
Those that are too slow for the track make excellent riding horses and seem to have an inborn ability to jump. Saddle-bred trotters are used to sire competition and general riding horses. The temperament is similar to that of the thoroughbred with both breeds having an abundance of spirit and energy.