Looking back over the history of World Percheron Congresses, it comes as a bit of a surprise to find out that the very first one was held in ... England! The British Percheron Society hosted the event as part of the Royal Show in 1978, and it was only two years later, in 1980, that France hosted its first international event, in the city of Le Mans. Since then, the majority of World Congresses have taken place in North America, with France playing host twice more, in 1989 and 2001.
The 1989 World Percheron Congress, held at the Haras du Pin (French National Stud) in Normandy, the same location as this year’s event, was seen as a major turning point in the history of the Percheron horse in France. The breed had fallen on hard times after the introduction of large-scale tractor use and, aside from the meat market, there was little in the way of outlets for draft horses. Consequently, little focus had been put on breeding good quality horses, and the Percheron had gone towards developing increasingly greater mass. The 1989 Congress was the first event that really focused on the potential use of the Percheron horse for leisure, and it truly energized both breeders and users. Driving, in particular, really started to take off in France after that event.
It is interesting to look at the ways in which the French Percheron market has differed from that in North America since the second half of the 20th century. The United States had an ongoing market for horses in rural life through communities such as the Amish, and both the U.S. and Canada developed an impressive show hitch market, with four, six or eight-horse hitches using mostly geldings and mares. That market does not exist in France and, even nowadays, there are virtually no six or eight-horse hitches in the country, and it is only very recently that the production of geldings has started to be seen as a viable option. Driving competitions tend to be done with pairs, although the re-institution in recent years of traditional “runs” such as the “Fish Run” from the Normandy Coast to Paris, as leisure and promotional activities, has created a demand for four-horse hitches. There are no “show hitch” competitions in France.
The Impact of American Stallions
Between the 1989 and 2001 Congresses, another revolution started to take place in France. The French Percheron Horse Society realized that something would have to be done to lighten the breed and create morphologies better suited to leisure use. In 1993, the Society imported Silver Shadows Sheik, a grey American son of Lo Lynd Joe Laet."Silver" sired 297 foals during his reproductive years in France. One of his first sons, Gallien, also distinguished himself by the number and quality of his foals. Silver was followed by Czar of Livingstone Valley (a son of Silver Shadows Kaiser) in 1997; Storey Creek Knight Cruiser (a son of Valley Vista Knightime) in 2002; B&L Hanson’s Ruby’s Charlie (a son of M.G.’s Black Diamond) in 2003; Donamerr’s Titan (a son of Pleasant View King) in 2006; and Hannah Hill Kemo Sabe (a son of Blackhome Grandeur Lyn) in 2010. These stallions have made a significant impact on the breed in France, creating horses that still have the bone and foot of the traditional French Percheron, but with a sleeker and more elegant look. Also interesting to note that after the first import, all the others have been jet black stallions, contributing to a revival of that color in France. As an aside, these crosses have produced several of the French National Champion Stallions of the past few years, with the 2010 champion, Titus de Vanoise (a son of Donamerr’s Titan), having 75% North American blood.
A Very Full Program!
It has been ten years since France hosted a World Congress. The last one in September 2001, was marred by the terrible events of that fateful month in New York. In hosting this year’s Congress, the French Percheron Horse Society is looking to create a truly international event which can be enjoyed by breeders and users from all over the world, and also will increase awareness of the potential and versatility of the Percheron horse among the public at large. In an age when sustainable development is a buzzword heard everywhere, the Percheron is the perfect companion in building a better world.
The second and third days will be show days that will combine the annual French National Breed Championships with a wide range of competitions and demonstrations. In the halter classes, stallions will be presented on Saturday, September 24, and mares and their foals on Sunday, September 25. This will be a perfect opportunity to see the full range of types, from the traditional French heavier-built horse to the lighter horses resulting from the use of imported American stallions.
A full program of driving competitions and demonstrations of all types will take place concurrently over the two days. The driving competitions will be focused on marathon-driving. There will also be demonstrations of plowing, logging, working in vineyards and municipal work, as well as presentations of show hitches, dressage, ridden carousels, vaulting and trick-riding. In addition, there will be educational exhibitions looking at the Percheron at work through history, and the Percheron around the world.
Participants From All Over the World
Large-scale international participation will make this very much a global event that will highlight the fact that the Percheron is now a “Horse of the World” rather than just “The Horse of the Perche.” Sizeable delegations are expected to attend from the United States and Canada and the only regret there is that prohibitive costs mean that horses will not be coming along, too. Britain will, once again, be a large-scale participant with close to 20 Percherons expected to cross the Channel to take part in various demonstrations and presentations. For the first time, there will also be Percherons from Ireland, with two plowing teams expected, led by Dr. Miles Frankel, who has also been named Honorary Chairman of the World Congress. There will be horses coming also from Italy, Belgium and Germany, and delegations confirmed from Japan, South Africa, Romania, Brazil and Columbia. The most distant participants, however, are coming all the way from Australia! Kamilaroi Equestrians have been performing for the past decade in Australia using purebred Percherons, ¾ Percherons and Percheron warmbloods for vaulting, trick-riding, side saddle, liberty, harness and Roman riding. They will be riding French Percherons in their demonstrations, making the event a true example of international cooperation!
The 2011 World Percheron Congress in France will be an event that will show the Percheron for what it truly is: stunning, versatile, and truly global.