Accommodations at the charming "Gites" for visitors from around the world still available still available. “Having the Games come to France is really exciting,” said Australian show jumping rider Amy Graham. Organizers of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy have made sure the event will be that and more. The excitement will build throughout the first two weeks of the Games, with the jumping competition – always one of the most popular events – culminating on the final days of the Games, from Sept. 1-7. For Amy Graham, the trip to the venue is just a short 40 mile drive from her beautiful farm Haras du Ry in Normandy. With facilities ready and waiting to accommodate the French Para Dressage Team, as well as rentals of charming "Gites" for visitors from around the world still available , Graham continues her quest with her world class jumper Bella Baloubet to represent her country. Meanwhile, France is enjoying equestrian growth in property values, much like the Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky has seen since the Games in 2010. And Horses Daily Inc.'s CEO Mary Phelps will be calling Haras du Ry home for the 4 week duration leading up to and during the games this summer.
When she moved to France, Graham immediately saw a positive change in her horses. “There are so many reasons why they are more relaxed and definitely very content in their bodies and mind – the climate, the fields, quality of pastures, big stables in the fresh air and the quiet. Every day when we are working with them, they are keen to work and also just love riding around the fields or local lanes. Also, the beaches are very close, so it is pretty much a perfect environment for breeding as well as competition horses,” she said.
Locating close to the main venue of the 2014 Games turned out to be an exciting bonus of her property search, she said, adding that her criteria included good road access to all areas of Europe and easy access to competitions. It didn’t take much research, she said, to determine that France has the most CSI 2* and 3* international competitions in a season anywhere in the world, as well as excellent national and young horse competitions and a strong eventing base. Further research identified Normandy as having a great climate to be outdoors, with easy access on the ferries to the UK and a fantastic road system throughout North and South Europe for traveling to 4* and 5* shows. “From there it was entirely the property and how good it felt for my horses and as a home that helped us make the decision,” she said. “You have to trust your gut sometimes!”
In addition to her own preparations for the Games, Graham is looking forward to hosting the French Para-dressage team, who this summer will be training and residing at Haras du Ry in preparation for the Games. “It is very exciting!”” she said, noting that her guest list includes 18 people (riders, family, grooms and trainers) who will arrive August 18. They are bringing seven horses for five days of team training, after which they and Graham will move their horses to stabling on the Games grounds.
Graham, who lives onsite in the main residence at Haras du Ry, is delighted to have acquired permanent grounds, after years of leasing stables across Europe. During her past five years in Europe, she has rented stables and residences in 12 different locations in Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands while she and her parents established a business. Her parents, farmers in Australia, have been her major sponsors and supporters, as is her fiancé, Iulian Marian Ursu, the manager of Haras du Ry.
Graham, 28, began her competitive career at the age of 14 as a junior rider in Australia. In 2005 she traveled to Europe for the first time after winning a national competition for young riders in Australia. This first trip, riding borrowed horses, spurred her determination to become a top-level international show jumping rider. She won the Australian National Young Rider Championships and then began competing in the Australian World Cup League qualifiers. In her first year of full competition as an adult, she won the Australian World Cup League Series aboard Transatlantic, who also won the leading horse award. In 2008 she won the Australia Pacific League World Cup Series at age 23, establishing herself as the youngest rider in Australia to achieve that.
Today her international superstar is Bella Baloubet, 13, a Selle Francais stallion with superior genetic lineage for the production of elite/premium show jumpers. His sire is the triple World Cup Champion and gold medal Olympic horse Baloubet du Rouet, who is by one of the greatest jumpers of all time, Galoubet A. Bella’s dam, Kapitola, is by Landadel, the only stallion to sire World Cup finalists in both jumping and dressage. Bella has completed the required stallion performance tests for registration as an approved stallion in the Anglo European, Swedish and Italian Warmblood stud books, and was recently approved for the Selle Francais stud book. (Frozen semen is available in Europe and especially to breeders in Normandy, as Haras du Ry is excited to develop a foal share arrangement to enable retention of Bella’s progeny.)
“I feel like Bella, my horse, is really peaking and I’m excited to see what we can do,” said Graham, who recently became a permanent resident of France with the opening of Haras du Ry, her premiere equestrian training and residential facility in Normandy. She observed that the show jumping arena at D’Ornano Stadium in Caen will have an arena that is the smallest allowable size for a world championship outdoors. “This may be a big factor for some competitors. A small arena can have things happening very fast and horses need to be very attentive. Bella loves this type of arena and atmosphere,” she added.
Bella has already established himself as a superb athlete. Last year Graham piloted him to a win at the Grand Prix at CSI3* in Drachten, the Netherlands. They also had consistent placings in numerous other CSI3-5* competitions, including their first Global Champions Tour at Monte Carlo. Graham also has several young horses just entering the CSI shows that she has owned since they were started under saddle.
Since leaving Australia, Graham and Bella have solidly improved performances. Bella brought Graham to the London Olympic Games in 2012, where she was reserve for the Australian show jumping team. Her hopes to compete were dashed when the other team horses trotted up sound at the first veterinary inspection. “Bella felt very good, very relaxed and very fit during the warm-up class and the trot-up. I felt very well prepared and confident that he and I would have jumped well,” she said.
While not competing in London was a great disappointment, Graham said she appreciates having been able to experience the Olympics from an “inside” perspective. “Probably the aspect I noticed the most is that I must be almost ‘European’ by now because I know and compete regularly at shows with many of the riders who were in London.
The ‘star-struck awe factor’ that I used to get when I first came to Europe has been replaced with a more relaxed feeling. Many of these riders are now my friends and fellow competitors on a regular basis,” she said. In fact, she said she has her “fingers and toes crossed” to start a new partnership with world championship gold medalist Michel Robert of France this year. “I love his riding and how horses jump that he has trained. I feel that he will be a great match for me.”
While competing at the Games will be her focus for the next six months, Graham said she doesn’t “ride every day for the Games.” While she said she would be honored to ride for Australian in Normandy, her perspective is realistic: “You can’t look at one competition as the be-all and end-all. You have to be consistent and balance your competitive goals with your training program because you never know what will happen between now and the Games.”
(For more information on the Games: www.normandy2014.com)
- Brochure on the charming "Gites" for visitors from around the world still available
- Visit the Facebook Page for La Gancellerie - Gites of Haras du Ry
Check out the image Gallery to see some photos of Haras du Ry. Photos Courtesy of sporthorseonpics.com