It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This - Settling into France

Thursday, August 21, 2014
Posted by Mary Phelps


Sometimes the way I make a plan of large proportions is, if all the stars seen to align, then it is meant to be. So has been the case deciding to come to Normandy this year for the Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games. With mega media coming out on a daily basis through all our contacts including media operations, all the interesting things Alltech does to supplement coverage and boost the experience, it is not really necessary to invest the money required (10K and counting) to travel and work one’s butt off.  We have our regular reporters, Diana De Rosa and Father McCormack sending in frequent impressions and perspectives, as well as daily reports, results and photos. But the stars aligned, which was a sign this would be yet another great adventure in the life of a longtime equestrian photographer. Added to the mix has been a very exciting development in my other career which more than less supplements this passion. As a longtime equine insurance agent with Markel Corporation, the company continues to grow in its reach and now has expanded their services in the equestrian worlds internationally.  In fact we have a booth at the trade fair (#62) right next to a bar so I hear, so pay attention to my Facebook page for updates on when I will be there so we can meet and greet. Now onto my adventure so far, and photos taken a long the way as I think I have finally adjusted to the time switch.

Last year I traveled with my friend Wayne Humphreys to France in November, with the main agenda of photographing the Pony Driving World Championships in Pau, France at the foot of the Pyrenees. As I posted my travels on Facebook; Paris to Pau, to Cannes on a ten-day journey, a French photographer, colleague and FB Friend Daniel Sebire reminded me he lived in Normandy and could help me find accommodations. It got even better when he told me there was a jumper rider Amy Graham, who with her family recently purchased Haras Du Ry in the small village of Brevands. They have Gites, the French word for B&B cottage type accommodations. This grew into connecting with her and her family, doing a story on her and her horse “Bella” and on the facility. I booked a two bedroom “Gite” knowing somewhere along the way someone would also need a place, and so the plans began.

Haras du Ry. Photo by Mary Phelps
Haras du Ry. Photo by Mary Phelps

I am sitting here writing this overlooking fields, valleys, ponds, and the beautiful brick courtyards. There are horses grazing in the fields in my back yard”. The windows are wide open with a clean breeze. Our accommodations are furnished with century old armoires, beamed ceilings, and French doors opening off of every room. We have met Clyde, the swan who follows me as I walk around the pond (and have been warned not to get too close) and we feel like part of this amazing family. Amy Graham is on the Australian team. Hara Du Ry is hosting the French Para Dressage team who are our next door neighbors. The barns are full of magnificent horses, the arena, trails and countryside, make this place an ideal location for equestrians hoping to launch their international careers. Amy has done it the hard way, coming here at the age of 22 (she is now 28) moving 11 times until her family who own a large farm in Australia purchased what as known as a breeding facility at one time, and reviving it into what it is today. Brevands is at the heart of the Normandy Beaches and D Day Tours; the cast of “The Band of Brothers” has booked this place for the next three years for the duration of their filming here. 

So we arrived (Wayne joined me for the first week – more to come on who is coming next week). After a perfect business class flight to Paris 3 days ago, I am finally adjusted to the time change I think. I have been doing this since 1982, Lausanne (Dressage) and all the World Equestrian Games since they began in Stockholm, except for Rome. A history of the World Equestrian Games is here. So I am older, a few injuries along the way (ponies carriage wreck and ATV Accident) have slowed me down a little. It takes awhile to adjust to the time changes, recuperate from hauling all the equipment I need, and just getting up in the morning and moving around, but I am here, headed of to the press center this morning for my credentials, and just got news today I have been granted the golden “Car pass”.

The Antique Store. Photo by Mary Phelps
The Antique Store. Photo by Mary Phelps

On our arrival, we were given the tour of the entire households, furnished with ancient antiques. Caroline told us the process, for some of the huge hand carver armoires in all the buildings. Some between just 30 and 40 Euros! That evening we were invited to a lovely dinner with our hosts Mark and Caroline Graham, who had arrived a few days earlier from Australia. We were invited to join her the following day on a shopping trip to the place where Caroline buys all the amazing pieces. We all piled into the Amy’s Horse van, with living accommodations (which had been her home for sometime) and drove through beautiful French villages to a huge warehouse full of incredible pieces. Caroline was a woman on a mission, picking up pieces she had purchased the week before, and then selecting more as we scanned the rooms full of French history. As I found something I liked, she would say, “Mark it “Vende” it goes in the truck today. The prices were not to be believed, and they were marked by date, with the price dropping each week the piece (all consigned) would drop. Check out the image gallery and tour with me. It was incredible.

Last night we were invited to a small get together with the French Para Team, and Thursday night we are having a media dinner with local government officials.

With a few days left before the Games begin, we are planning on a tour of the Normandy beaches and Mont-Saint-Michel.  Now I am off to the press center to get set up. Caen is a 45-minute drive from here, so I am getting my bearings. The Mont-Saint-Michel is the #1 tourist attraction in the region and will be the site of part of the 100 mile Endurance Competition.

Keep coming back to our coverage of the WEG and Mary’s Daily Dish.