My last horse Bear was tricky… really really tricky! Like a bad relationship he was sugar and sweet one day and dangerously worrying the next. I tried for 2 years to get along with him, cherishing the good times and always giving him the benefit of the doubt but when he buggared off at breakneck speed away from home at a show ground full of children I had to admit defeat… but not before my heart was broken. Really really broken.
Bear is a rare breed. A Cob Normand, or Normandy Cob. A versatile animal with a wealth of agricultural and military history. When he came to me I started a Facebook group for those of us who were lucky enough to own one, a little haven where we could all discuss our trials and triumphs, our dreams, our successes and in my case my ongoing tribulations! We shared photos and experiences of our magnificent horses and started to do our best to get the word out in the UK about this rare and very special breed.
The Facebook group started to slowly grow and it was so great to connect with people who even knew what a Normandy Cob was! It is here that I met Sally Lee.
Sally popped up on our timelines and it was clear from day one that she knew about these horses. Living in France and being a very dedicated and passionate lady she would give us useful insights about how they are trained, bred and used over there. She offered fantastic little snippets about their heritage but always being careful not to overstep her mark and advertise, because Sally works with the Jouvin family in Normandy who have been breeding , selling and developing Normandy Cobs for decades, but she wasn’t here to sell their horses. She has zero problem selling their horses for reasons I would soon be finding out! She genuinely wanted to help us all learn more about them.
She is a kind person is Sally Lee. When I was starting to have really dangerous issues she even offered to have Bear over to France and see what might be done with him! We had a couple of chats on the phone and online and I think she will admit, really didn’t blame me when I decided enough was enough and he went back to the charity I was loaning him from.
Sally knew I was heartbroken, I was literally so distraught having made one of the toughest decisions in my life and so she did something amazing…
she invited me to Normandy……
So before I had talked myself out of it, there I was! An English woman with very little French vocabulary, on a plane to Dinard with a hirecar waiting for me at the other end, driving on the “wrong” side of the road to meet a person I have never met in a rural location that you can’t even put into the satnav to see what Normandy Cobs are really all about! I must be mental! What if she’s an axe murderer!? What if the Jouvin stud is all bad animal welfare but good marketing? What if it wasn’t what it said on the tin?! What if my gut feelings were wrong?
My plane was delayed. I didn’t get to the house until gone 10pm, but when I did there was a smiley face, a home cooked meal and a massive hug with my name on it and I knew we were gonna be ok, in fact later that evening when there was a horse trying to come into the kitchen I knew for sure that these were my kind of people!
My first glimpse of the Normandies was when Sally and I went the next day to check some 3 year olds. I felt a real wave of emotion as I watched them walk over to us. These horses were the reason I was here. This rare and incredibly special breed who had already brought me to some wonderful people was finally right in front of me, calm, inquisitive and very politely saying hello!
They couldn’t have made a better first impression to be honest. They are unashamedly classy, great conformation, beautiful coats and the kindest of eyes. Friendly without being overpowering, interested without being pushy. Just beautiful animals who are a credit to their breeder. Better than I was expecting. I couldn’t wait to get to the stud and meet some more.
I got my chance the following morning .We went off to meet Georges Jouvin, known affectionately as the Normandy CobFather, and the rest of his family at the Jouvin stud. I had no idea of the day that I had in front of me. After meeting the family over the kitchen table I realised how terrible my French actually was! There was lots of nodding and gesticulating and we were able to communicate with Sally kindly translating, but I really didn’t know what to say? How do you get across how important these people are to you, when you’ve actually never met them before?
Georges is a warm man with formidable knowledge. His life’s work is right there on that farm and he has nothing to prove to anyone, the horses speak for themselves. I was instantly impressed by him, and his wonderful family who did ever so much to make me, a complete stranger feel at ease and immediately like part of the furniture. People like that are rare. Just like these horses!
It was genuinely a real treat for me to drive around with Georges in his car to see his precious horses. Some here, some there, in small groups and bigger ones, living out, happy and healthy and beautiful. Different colours and weights but all 100% Cob Normand with 50 years of breeding for temperament behind them.. and boy did it show! They were so much more impressive than I had imagined. Pure class runs through their veins, pure calmness in their hearts and I knew that I was in a really privileged position to be here, and learn more about them. There were a couple of real moments for me when I couldn’t believe how lucky I felt. It was such a beautiful day.
Georges showed me everything.. 50 years of legacy, equipment, carriages, horses, family and love. 50 years well spent! I learned very quickly not to ask their names but George knows every single one of those horses inside out. It’s absolutely amazing. No wonder Elevage Jouvin have such a good track record for matching people up with their prospective horses! They do things differently. They do things right!
We came back to the farm for a bite to eat. Wonderful home cooked French cuisine prepared by MarieRose, Georges wife. She looked after us as if we were her own family and I instantly understood who was at the very heart of this wonderful family. Georges son Franck joined us and we attempted a conversation, it went very well and although I understood much of what was being said, along with Sally’s brilliant translating I have since committed to learning some more French! Had more of a look around the farm, including a hilarious moment with Georges and the torches on our mobile phones which I will forever remember with a smile, and eventually all came back to the house for a coffee.
We chatted away for ages, and I was sad to have to go, I walked out of the kitchen door only to find Franck and 2 of the farm’s finest all tacked up and ready to go at the front of the house. I had met these two beauties earlier but had no idea that he was getting them ready for us! I was completely shocked and honestly a little overwhelmed.. we were going driving!
Trotting around the Normandy countryside, having a go at driving myself for the first time in many many years and a speedy adrenaline infused trip round an orchard later I don’t think I have ever felt as relaxed and happy. Franck has a great and slightly mischievous sense of humour, and thought it was hilarious that Sally was clinging on for dear life in the back while I was laughing my head off in the front. That man knows what he is doing. He is 7 times national champion for heavens sake! How often do you get to experience driving with one of those?!.! They really didn’t have to do this. It was absolutely above and beyond and I just wasn’t expecting such a brilliant end to a brilliant day. I found my inner adrenaline junkie and I saw what these horses are capable of. They are amazing, just amazing.
Of course we had to leave the farm, I just didn’t want to go. I did a bit of sightseeing over the next day or two, we even got to visit a French village fete which was an experience and a half! I was sad to head home, but I went with my heart full of joy and knowing exactly where my next horse was going to come from. Confident as I could be. That this time it was going to be right!
Despite the stress and the heartache I am so grateful for Bear. Without him I would never have met these people. This troublesome horse who broke my heart had led me to the very people who could help me mend it. The irony has not escaped me, but I see now that that was his job. To lead me there. To extend my family.
I cannot wait to get back there, it can’t come soon enough! But next time.. I’ll be looking for a horse of my own, and I’ll able to say more than “bonjour” , because a family like this deserves my utmost respect.
à très bientôt mes amis!
to find out more about the stud visit http://www.normandycobs.com
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