The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy promises to leave a long-lasting stamp on the Basse-Normandy region of France, just as the 2010 Games did in Lexington. And no one is better positioned to fuel the Games in France than Australian show jumping rider Amy Graham. Recently she opened a new training and residential facility, Haras du Ry, just an hour from the main Games venues in Caen. “It is very exciting to have the Games back in Europe and so close to my home,” said Graham, 28, who is on Australia’s short list of four riders for the show jumping team in Normandy and is currently ranked second in her native Australia. “The French people love their horses and any competitions here are passionately supported by breeders and the general public, so I am sure the Games will be an outstanding success for Normandy.”
Given the resources and painstaking efforts France and the Games’ title sponsor, Alltech, have put into the event, the Games are certain to have a long-term impact on the Basse-Normandie region. As Games CEO Fabien Grobon said: “The Games are 15 months of preparation, 15 days of competition, and 15 years of legacy.”
No doubt, the Games are a wise and logical investment for France. The nation is the reigning European Jumping Champion and last year won the Nations Cup Finals. With nearly three-quarters of the French jumping team hailing from Normandy (most live within 20 minutes of D’Ornano Stadium, including superstar Kevin Staut, Penelope Leperovost and Florin Angot), France has a distinct home court advantage.
Graham is gearing to be part of it. “I am working out my preparation plan at the moment with Equestrian Australia,” she said. “I hope to have great preparation, concentrating on 4* and 5* shows with their help. Ideally, I can also have another two horses with me during preparation so that they can support Bella (her grand prix mount) by allowing me plenty of ring time but keeping him fit and fresh.”
Australian selectors are still finalizing the selection trials. The current plan is to have two selection trials in July/August, but up to two riders can be pre-selected based on outdoor show performances.
“Australia is my country. However, I don’t think I could do what I do from Australia,’ said Graham. “I know how much planning and investment is required to succeed when you are based in Europe, and it would be prohibitive for me to add the cost of transporting horses back and forth. I know that’s not a fair comment, but Australia is so far away that the tyranny of distance has always been a huge factor in the success of Australian riders.”
That is no longer a factor for her, with the grand opening last weekend of her premiere equestrian training and lodging facility, Haras du Ry. Located in Brevands, less than an hour from the main Games venues in Caen, the private gated property has already attracted interest from European riders and trainers, as well as from those who plan to attend the Games.
“We will build Haras du Ry into a fabulous professional facility where rider/owners and grooms can train and build their competition careers. In all of my time in Europe so far I have never found a facility that provides everything for a professional team and at an affordable price,” said Graham. “When I have looked for a good horse facility, it is often very hard and very expensive to find groom or rider accommodations. This facility has everything, all at a fantastic standard but a normal renting price. Also the Normandy region offers a wonderful culture/ lifestyle and history. It is truly an amazing place to live.
“We have amazing food and culture, great people, and lots to see and do. I love the history surrounding the area, which will be particularly exciting this year with the D-Day celebrations going on,” she added. Not surprisingly, Graham hasn’t had much time for sightseeing yet. “My focus has been entirely on my competition schedule, as well as setting up all of the business systems at Haras du Ry. Any other available time I have concentrated on meeting breeders and getting to know my local suppliers. The rest of the time I like to spend at my new home with family. It is such a treat to have a lovely old farmhouse to make into our home.”
The 185-acre property has expansive barns with 50 stalls and room to build another 40. There is an indoor hot walker, a solarium and a tack room. The facility has indoor (50 x 25 meters) and outdoor (100 x 80) arenas. In the next 18 months, Graham plans to additional arenas for longing and dressage, as well as building cross-country fences. The outdoor arena will be extended to include a grassed area with open water and ditch obstacles, making for a total outdoor arena of approximately 100 x 100 meters. The sport horse fields have wooden fencing and high-quality year-round pasture, and there are plans to fence 20 more sport horse fields, as well as young horse fields.
In addition to its fantastic training center, Haras du Ry has four secluded French farmhouses, known as “gites” in France. The “Gites of La Gancellerie” offer riders and trainers the comfort and convenience of having a private home on the same premises as their horses, for long-term stays or for specific periods while in training at Haras du Ry.
It is particularly suited to professional riders in show jumping, dressage and eventing; breeders who want to have their young horses trained to international standard; owners who want to place a horse in international competition; and aspiring international competitors from non-European countries who desire a safe, professional facility for a European competition season.
The gites are booked during the show jumping dates of the 2014 Games, but there is some availability during dressage and eventing, as well as before and after the Games. For those who wish to extend their stay and explore the area, Normandy has plenty to offer, much of it just minutes from Haras du Ry. The beaches and museum at the WWII memorial at Omaha Beach are only 10 minutes away. Historic Mont Saint-Michel, where the Endurance competition will be held, and Saint-Lô, site of the horse-ball demonstration during the Games, are a short drive. Paris is two hours by train. (For reservations at Haras du Ry, call Graham at +33 6 27 10 69 18 or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Keep up with Amy Graham's quest, travels, and photos on her Facebook page
Next, Part 2: C’est la Vie in France for Games Hopeful Amy Graham