- HEIGHT: 16–17 hands
- PLACE OF ORIGIN: France
- SPECIAL QUALITIES: Exceptional temperament, jumping ability
- BEST SUITED FOR: Show jumping, dressage, eventing
Selle Français means “French saddle horse,” but today these horses are internationally renowned for their jumping ability. Olympic show-jumping teams from many countries include individuals of this breed among their best horses. Although the focus of French breeding efforts since the 1950s has been to produce the world’s finest jumping horses, and recently dressage horses as well, the history of the breed is quite long, convoluted, and complex, with the bloodlines of many breeds contributing to the mix.
France, particularly Normandy, has produced excellent horses as far back as the time of William the Conqueror. In fact, when William marched on England in 1066, he took a large number of Norman horses with him. These were big, powerful warhorses, which, when later crossed on native English mares, noticeably improved the English stock.
After several hundred years and frequent changes in desired type, the quality of the once superior Norman horses deteriorated, a consequence of too many outcrosses.
After 1775, Arabs and English Thoroughbreds were frequently used for breed improvement. These crosses came to be known as Anglo-Normans, although other breeds were also intermingled.
Selle Français horses have won impressive honors in international competition. The only three-time winner of the World Cup in show jumping (1998, 1999, and 2000) was Baloubet du Rouet. At the 2002 World Equestrian Games, the French team, all mounted on Selle Français horses, won the team gold medal in show jumping, and they also won the individual silver medal. At the same games, in three-day eventing, the French won the individual gold medal as well as the team silver medal. At the 2004 Olympics Baloubet du Rouet won the individual silver medal for Brazil, and the French won the team gold medal in eventing, again mounted on Selle Français.
Of the two types of Anglo-Normans, one, a draft type, stood about 15.2 to 17 hands. It had a good bit of Percheron blood and later some influence from the Boulonnais, a heavy draft horse native to northwestern France. This type of Anglo-Norman was used to pull mail carts, among other things, and could pull heavy loads at a steady, fast pace.
The second type was lighter and more suitable for cavalry use and for sports, including racing, which had long been popular in Normandy. The breeding centers in Normandy and Béarn have racing records that date back to the sixth century. Horse racing became quite fashionable, with regular races held, during the reign of King Louis XIV (1643–1715).
During this period the state became involved in France’s horse industry. Louis XIV wanted to enlarge France’s kingdom, and to do so required superior cavalry. In 1665, a series of national studs were established. Breeders imported stallions from Mecklenberg, Holstein, and Denmark to improve the quality of the horses. France opened its very famous cavalry school in Saumur in 1771. After the French Revolution, in 1789, the state studs were closed until Napoleon (1804–1815) reestablished them.
The Selle Français is an elegant, powerful breed.
Under Napoleon’s rule, fifteen hundred selected stallions stood at stud across the country. The Napoleonic wars introduced new blood from captured horses in Prussia, Egypt, and Austria. In the 1830s, the French studs began adding English Thoroughbreds for improvement. In 1836 the Ministry of Agriculture was established to direct, encourage, and control the horse industry.
Between 1834 and 1860, there was also a large admixture of Norfolk Trotter to produce horses both for the military and for coaching. This coaching and light draft type became known as the Anglo-Norman Trotter and later the French Trotter, and it is the influence of this breeding that sets apart today’s Selle Français from other European warmbloods.
After World War II and reconstruction, mechanized farming began to reach Europe on a large scale. There was no longer a need for cavalry or for many light draft horses. As happened with other light draft breeds, the French horse survived because breeders began to develop warmblood saddle horses to be used for sport rather than work.
The conformation of these horses is similar to that of a Thoroughbred, but usually with more bone and substance.
History of the Registry
In 1949, a Norman studbook was founded for saddle horses, and in 1958 officials consolidated all the regional types and crossbreds under one name, Selle Français. The Anglo-Norman formed the basis for this breed, although many other breeds played, and continue to play, a part.
The first studbook for the breed, published in 1965, included the Selle Français, the Arabian, and the Anglo-Arab. Within the studbook, crosses are permitted between these breeds. Crosses to Thoroughbreds and French Trotters are also permitted and do occur.
In France, the horses are divided into three classes: the competition horse, the racehorse, and the riding horse. They are also divided into five groups by height and weight-carrying ability.
BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES
Numbers of registered Selle Français in North America are not available.
• The association conducts annual inspections to admit stallions and mares to the registry.
• There are currently 30 stallions in North America approved for breeding. These include Selle Français, French Anglo-Arabs, and approved Thoroughbreds.
The Selle Français breed is known for its exceptionally pleasant temperament. The horses are said to sometimes display an almost doglike willingness to please and are often greatly affectionate with their owners. These athletic horses are outstanding jumpers and perform well at all levels of competition.
Today’s Selle Français usually stands between 16 and 17 hands. The conformation is similar to a Thoroughbred’s, but with more bone and muscle. The breed is elegant, but retains its robust, muscular strength. Most of these horses have a long neck; some may have a large head. Those Selle Français with a strong concentration of Anglo-Arab breeding are inclined to be square-framed and close-coupled, rather than rectangular.
During the breed’s fairly recent history, many of the influential sires were chestnut, and that color predominates, although bay is also common. Red roan and gray are seen occasionally.