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The Selle Français is the main French breed of warmblood horse, but unlike its Dutch and German warmblood neighbours, the Selle Français has had quite a different evolution.
Like many continental warmbloods, the breed Selle Français came into formalised existence in 1958 when Europe was recovering after the Second World War and the horse was no longer required as an agriculture worker or a beast of burden. The breed originated in Normandy where heavier horses were crossed with English Thoroughbreds and the Norfolk Roadster. The Norfolk Roadster is an extinct breed, sometimes called a Norfolk Trotter, was a trotter used for coach work. Initially before the creation of the Selle Français as it is seen today, there were two types of horse produced from this cross breeding, a fast harness horse called the French Trotter and the Anglo-Norman which was sub-divided into two types, a draught cob and a riding horse.
Main image source : Curtesy of S. Carter via Flickr Creative Commons.
In 1958 all of these mixtures and types were merged under one umbrella to become the French Saddle Horse, or Selle Français, and the modern post war French sports horse was born. Because of its earlier evolution, a large proportion of the early horses had a high percentage of Thoroughbred and Arab blood, and the breed still retains its connections with the French trotter. So unlike its European counterparts, the Selle Français already had plenty of Thoroughbred in the pedigree mix. Further improvement since the 1950s has resulted in a modern sports horse that excels in show jumping but also has a high profile in the three day event because of the speed and stamina of the Thoroughbred influence.
Breeding still remains largely in the Normandy area which is the traditional stronghold of the Selle Français although unlike the large warmblood studs to be found in Germany, the production of this breed tends to be more piecemeal with smaller farms and breeding operations. Initially the Stud Book permitted the use of blood from Thoroughbreds, Arabs, Anglo-Arabs and French Trotters but in more recent times, restrictions have been introduced which follow more the pattern used by the German warmblood Stud Books. Inspections are held to grade stock. In 2003, the Stud Book was divided into two halves, one for pure bred Selle Français so horses from a registered sire and dam and the other for cross bred horses that had passed inspection. This separation was removed in 2009 and there is now only one single Stud Book.
The Thoroughbred influence has meant that the Selle Français has always naturally devolved more towards show jumping and eventing than dressage where the bigger, rounder more elevated gaits of the German and Dutch warmbloods are preferred. However do not think that the Selle Français is not a capable dressage horse. The majority of horses used by the famous Cadre Noir at Saumur, the French National School of Equitation, are Selle Français. Interestingly and quite conversely, the Selle Français is also used as the cornerstone of the French steeplechase horse. These horses are termed AQPS the shortened version of a French phrase which means essentially “other than Thoroughbred”. This group now have their own Stud Book which came into being in 2005. Neptune Collonges who won the Grand National in 2012 was a registered Selle Français.
In appearance, the Selle Français is a light framed, quality horse but with plenty of bone. Colours are usually dark, bay and brown but chestnut tends to predominate. A good indicator of a Selle Français is the head which whilst of quality, does not have quite the look of a Thoroughbred and resembles more the old French Trotter, a hint that you might be looking at a Selle Français rather than a Thoroughbred. The horse has perhaps a livelier and more spirited temperament than some of the other European warmbloods because of the amount of Thoroughbred breeding so this makes for an excellent sports horse.
There is no UK Selle Français Society but Selle Français horses are both bred in the UK and imported from France with all registrations being managed by the Selle Français Stud Book.
Main image source : Curtesy of Jean via Flickr Creative Commons.