Independant of each other, we both have had a wish to visit the Cadre Noir in Saumur for many, many years. Since Saint-Jean-de-Sauves is only one hour from Saumur, our stay here is an excellent opportunity to finally make our wishes come true.

We had seen on the website that there is the possibility of a guided tour of the grounds, and there are the gala shows, which are a major attraction. But there is also a more mundane show where the public is informed of the kind of training the riders of the Cadre Noir do with their horses to get them to the highest levels in jumping and dressage.

We agreed that this interests us more than the gala show, so last Tuesday, Christophe called and made reservations for the guided tour yesterday afternoon and the matinale this morning.

A guided tour of the Cadre Noir

There were around 15 persons for the tour, which started at exactly 14:00h. Our guide, Lea, first took us to the big outdoor arena where she gave us a lot of facts and figures. For example: there are 18 outdoor arena’s, 7 indoor arena’s, about 350 horses, 50 grooms (15 of them women), 15 riders in the Cadre Noir (3 of them women) and 200 students.

She took us to the big indoor arena where we learned that the riding surface is 35 by 75 meters and the hall can house a maximum of 1800 spectaters.

On we went to visit a small exhibition with (old) saddles and bridles and some video’s of farriers and veterinarians at work. The saddles they used to use for the horses that do the school jumps off the ground weigh 35 kg! Fortunately, they have innovated since then, and the saddles that are currently used for this work weigh only 12 kg, which is still hefty.

Finally, we arrived at the stables and thus, the horses. Now, before I go on, let me state that these horses are taken excellent care of. They have 5 farriers on site, and every horse is reshod every month, or in exceptional cases, every six weeks. There’s also a veterinary clinic on the premisses, so if a horse is sick or injured, there is professional help nearby.

Life in a golden cage

However, having said that, the life imposed upon these horses sucks. They get some time off during the summer, when the grooms and riders go on vacation. In that case, the horses get some weeks on pasture. But for the rest of the time, they are stabled. Each and every horse is taken out of it’s stable for one hour per day, to work. The stables are small for big warmblood horses.

They are fed automatically 3 times per day, at 7:15, somewhere in the afternoon, and at 17:30. They are also fed 8 to 9 kg of hay per day. The ones that do not eat their straw have a deep straw bed, the others wood shavings.

Horses are bought at the age of 3 and introduced to life in a stable and training to become professional athletes. With that come 4 iron shoes. Except for the horses that perform the croupade. Those are shod only in the front, because the risk of losing a shoe while kicking out is too high.

Other than that, each and every horse is shod on all fours, no questions asked. When asked why, the answer was something along the lines that they walk on all sorts of undergrounds and their hooves aren’t up to that when they aren’t shod. Sad isn’t it? They don’t even try it without shoes.

It’s amazing really. The Cadre Noir is a very prestigious institution with a lot of knowlegde about horses and how to train them. And they do an outstanding job when it comes to training. It is clear from the demonstration we saw today. But where horse management is concerned, they are sadly stuck in the dark ages.

A “matinale” at the Cadre Noir

It was a feast for sore eyes to see these beautiful horses with their handlers and riders. No undue stress, no agression, no hard hands, nothing of the sort. Just patience and horses that were without exception tuned 100% to their humans. Amazing to witness their focus, even surrounded by hundreds of spectators applauding. They don’t bat an eye and keep their focus.

You can only reach that level of dedication from a horse if you train it with love, patience and respect. Which is the way of old, to which the Cadre Noir sticks and I consider that a good thing. I am convinced that there will come a time when they will innovate the way they keep the horses though, because in my opinion, that is sorely needed.

Just imagine what those animals are capable of if they live a horsy life with 24 hour turn out in a herd! Top athletes don’t spend their time off sitting still, so why should horses? Who are, unlike us, designed by nature to move around the clock. It’s a miracle they can adapt to a life in prison so well, but it shouldn’t be that way. They deserve better than that. Much better.

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