Unless you have actually met a Normandie Cob, or spent time in their company enjoying the glorious delights that rural France has to offer, it will sound as if I am describing Brigadoon says Sally Redstone from Élevage Jouvin.
However, this magical place and magnificent beasts really do exist, so I would ask you to settle back and let my words take you there...
The Normandie Cob, how best to describe? Horses with an invisible corn like a unicorn? Well, it seems that way to me. Such a small rare breed, largely undiscovered as they had no commercial value for the French meat man. I write from experience and the heart when I describe them as without comparison. The name Normandie Cob, is a relatively new term, perhaps the word ‘Cob' was thought to broaden the appeal, but their true name is the Carrosier. The Carrosier is a horse that is naturally versatile, willing, serious in their work, yet gentle, family orientated, and very intelligent.
The thing is, to us, they are part of our family, and we like to include them as much as possible. They were born for the role of faithful friend, so quite often we will go out on an evening ‘carriages at 9pm’ drive. Usually this includes letting any given restaurant advanced notice, but they are delighted as are all their customers when we arrive. To us it's pure pleasure to travel in such a way, but to others standing next to their cars, it seems to release a feeling of nostalgia, perhaps distant text book memories when civilisations were created, thanks to the willingness of the horse. Before we know it the evening has passed, time to light the candles of the coach lanterns, pull up the hood, and a rug for the ‘designated driver’. Nothing can beat the steady clip clop of our faithful companions taking us home.
I received a call from a delightful lady in the UK, well known for providing carriage driving horses for many UK television series. The kind that recreates the bygone era above. Her remit was specific, she required horses that were able to stand quietly for long periods of time off set, would pull out all the stops at the moment required with pride, and yet at the same time were able to be turned away for months at a time during non filming periods. Impossible for some, but not for our horses. This lady had the usual driving breeds, you know the ones; heritage breeds from the UK and Europe. The difference being is that sadly the majority of these breeds have been commercialised to the point of being unrecognisable for their original purpose. There are very few breeders left that shun financial gain over preservation of the breed, for future generations to enjoy.
The ‘Brown Bears' as they were lovingly nicknamed, made the journey to the UK and did exactly what was required of them, in fact, as their owner pointed out; ‘if they could tack themselves up, they would have no need of us!’
What other horse do you know that can plough the fields, help us gather and deliver the hay, pull mighty tree's out of the forest twice their weight, be nimble and light enough to compete in dressage, to jump 1m.20 plus, calm headed in a hunt, be a safe hacking horse, able to cover 25 miles in one day and loves being the family horse on a picnic drive to the forest or the beach? Oh, and let's not forget, be able to place the grandchildren on it's back?
I believe I can rest my case there, but in order to create such an animal, breeding that is thoughtfully considered and a subsequent education is required that is second to none. Yes, we are here to sell horses, but not one will ever leave our hands unless we are confident that all parties are satisfied, with the horse being placed at the top.
As they don't need rugging, stabling, and live on just grass and hay, they really are a horse for all seasons, and happily so is France.
Driving is a popular leisure here in all the seasons. The French are very family and friends orientated and it is typical on a Sunday to see evidence of this. We are very lucky, there are miles and miles of converted 18c steam railway lines, as I write, my view is of one such track that leads to Mont St Michel in one direction and the palace of Versailles in the other. There are no motor vehicle's allowed, just hikers, cyclists and horses. Often we will take advantage of such a delight, hitch two or four in hand (sometimes six!) with several other horses mounted. A hasty baguette, cheese and wine luncheon organised and we are off on a new adventure, humans and horses brimming with enthusiasm, as who knows who we will meet or what we may find? Along the way the former railway stations and signalmen’s cottages are converted as places to stop, picnic benches, places to tie your horses, toilets and even permanent stone BBQ’s are thoughtfully provided. The views are magnificent, and the tree lined tracks provide shade in the summer, shelter from the wind in the winter, and of course, bluebells and wild primrose in Spring, and the most glorious colours of leaves in autumn.
Of course there is driving competing here and when our Normandies have taken us through to become champions of France in three phase eventing we are prouder of them than ever, but just like this humble yet most honourable of rare breeds, we are all at our natural resting place in the countryside, enjoying our time together as a team. You are welcome to join us, once you find the path that leads to this most special horse and place, your eyes will be opened to limitless possibilities.
Until next time, Sally and the Normandies, down on ‘Ze Farm’.
To discover more about the breed: www.normandycobs.com