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Management practices

I farm a good twenty hectares of pasture fenced with post and rail and wooden gates, reinforced with electric strand. The ponies are left out all year, in their natural state from 1 December to 15 March. Between 15 March and 30 November the herd of around fifteen ponies is divided into four and each group are allocated two parcels and systematically rotate from one to the other by trailer (even for distances easily doable on foot, as in most cases, in order to get them used to loading and unloading) every six weeks. In spring and autumn each parcel is cut (for hay or not) or strimmed. A contractor applies the treatments we have decided on together, with the assistance of an agricultural technician, in relation to the soil analysis undertaken at the beginning of the year: compound fertiliser, selective weed killer, strimming around the fencing, liming etc.

All the fields have a stream as a boundary from which the ponies can access running water. The entrance to each parcel has a holding pen to catch the youngsters or foals not yet sufficiently approachable to be caught in the big fields. These holds allow the youngsters to be handled easily when the blacksmith comes to do the trims every three months, when I worm them (every three months as well) and vaccinate them (ProteqFlu-Te for all and Pneuméquine as well for the broodmares).

In winter the ponies are grouped in two parcels, near the hay barn and the feed shed: the colts are in one paddock, the fillies in another, the two being separated by another empty paddock. The hay doesn’t come from my land but from low fields near the Vilaine, which I buy it from the person who farms our family estate or I swap with him for the hay from my fields. Hay is fed freely, distributed in racks with roofs with a maximum of three ponies per rack. When a rack is almost empty the farmer immediately re-fills it. A neighbouring instructor also gives each pony four litres of flaked feed in buckets (in hard plastic with a galvanised handle) hung on a short rope to the rails every other sleeper. Finally, mineral blocks to lick are placed in the paddocks several times throughout the year. On 15 March, when the ponies go back out to grass, if there’s not too much of it, granulated feed is given for another two weeks in all the occupied paddocks.

Since 2010 two weeks in August have been dedicated, with the assistance of a student, to youngstock testing and breaking of the 3-year-olds: two six day weeks alternating between lunging ‘on the flat’ and lunging over fences, at a rate of four ponies per day, in the morning, in my sand arena. If I have more than eight ponies to work in a season I give another four consecutive weekends in May and/or June to carry out the same testing (so eight days in this case instead of six because they are broken up) and to start breaking the 3-year-olds, which I do myself. The testing is always done in the same way, even for the yearlings: lunge on the flat the first day (the yearlings therefore learn in one session to trot on the two reins because they have to jump on the lunge the following day), a line of three fences the next day (the yearlings who have generally not cantered the day before do so that day out of the necessity to achieve a more regular rhythm for jumping), lunge on the flat on the third day (the yearlings work normally on both reins in the three paces), a single jump on the fourth day (the most difficult session where only the really good ones put on a good show), lunge on the flat then walk-out in hand around the property, passing by spooky objects such as the small lumps of wood spikes above the stream, and the sixth and final day, work on a line of two jumps which allows me to take photos or videos – with the latter the commentaries on each pony stored on my computer form precious records.
The sessions on the lunge on the flat are of course replaced by ridden work for the 3-year-olds. In general, for the latter, after the third session I can be let off in the arena and walk and trot on both reins with a semblance of steering, and can sometimes canter and go out in the nearby woods with some of them. All three generations of ponies are also measured and the measurements recorded on my computer for the files.

These fifteen summer days also provide the opportunity to handle the foals at the end of every afternoon (walk with headcollar and lead rein behind their mother, grooming and picking up feet) and to groom their mothers.
As for foaling, they take place at a neighbouring farmer’s, a former thoroughbred breeder, under his watchful eye: the broodmares are driven to his place a bit before they are due (and if the broodmare has taken us by surprise and it’s no longer necessary to drive them to his he comes to give them a serum injection of Trivalent in the paddock, an oral syringe of vitamins and the Normacol in the quarters of the colts in case they have difficulties getting rid of the meconium) and come back to me just after the foaling and lavish -natal care

For the inseminations, I or a neighbouring teacher who helps me from time to time transport the broodmares to my vet or to stud.

As far as the covering programme is concerned it is set out in a Word document, which is regularly enriched and updated. My breeding is deeply considered and fastidiously thought through. In fact, my year is punctuated by several real impulses during which, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I grab a pen and piece of paper to note these new ideas which can be enlightening (! ) and which make me feel incredibly alive…It is in these moments that I feel that I am building something different, unique and which will often produce something exceptional. These are moments to treasure and I have to say that I find it hard to explain what goes on in my head…

I have also regularly responded to requests and ideas from other breeders who I do or don’t know, sometimes unaware…, and I won’t hide that some very well known French ponies, sometimes at the highest international level, have seen the light of day in this way.

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