The Selle Francais or French Saddle Horse, has a varied history which finds its beginnings in the 1700’s. The horses of Normandy were bred with English Thoroughbreds to create the Anglo-Norman horse. These horses were instrumental in the eventual evolution of the Selle Francais.
Western Europe had mineral rich soil, available water, a robust countryside; altogether an excellent climate for horses and livestock to thrive. The French had a reputation for producing excellent horses. However, over time breeding became quite disorganized in many of the bloodlines. The Norman and Anglo-Norman horse breed lines were further weakened with the introduction of the Mecklenburg Cart Horse and Danish horse breeds.
In 1775, with the decline and weakening of French horses, there was a movement to improve the state of breeds. Thoroughbreds and Arabs bloodlines were introduced into stock in hopes of improving the horses. Later, Norfolk Trotter and the eventual Anglo-Norman Trotter reinforced the deteriorating horses.
There are records which attest to the use of Percheron and Boulonnais having been used to also improve the French horses in the 19th century. In recent years, but prior to the onset of the official development of the Selle Francais, regional breeds like the Vendée, Charolais, Corlay, Anjou, Ain and Ardenn bloodlines also contributed to the development of the Selle Francais.
The Anglo-Norman and Thoroughbreds were continually used in French breeding, so much so that many French horse breeds exhibited the same characteristics. In 1958, there was a purposeful move towards streamlining the French horses which resulted in the official creation of the Selle Francais.
The Selle Francais has become a viable breed which excels as a workhorse and in competition. It is known for its jumping abilities, dressage, agility, and overall eventing. The Selle Francais also do well as racehorses and for general trail riding. The Selle Francais is even tempered and an excellent equine athlete.
With its varied origins, the Selle Francais does not have many specific conformation requirements for registry. The breed is still a confluence of breeds including different sire options such as the Thoroughbred, Trotter, Anglo-Arab and Selle Francais. The preference, of course, is to breed Selle Francais mares and stallions. In accordance with this mixed breed background, there are five breed classifications in the stud book which include variations for horse size and capacity of load. There are strict grading of qualified horses for inclusion in the registry due to the fact that these horses have this multi-breed ancestry.
The Selle Francais, overall, has some consistent characteristics. The horses are large, well-muscled and balanced. They vary in height, but usually stand above 17 hands.
The head is relatively large yet graceful with a long muscular neck. The shoulders are slightly sloping. The rib cage is curved and rounded. They have powerful, sturdy limbs with strong muscular hindquarters. The general physique of the Selle Francais reflects its power and athleticism.
Selle Francais colors varies; chestnut and bay are the most common colors, however the horses can also be found in a variety of colors. There are no registry restrictions with regard to color.
The disposition of the Selle Francais is amiable and even tempered. This disposition makes the horse easily trainable especially as an eventing competitor. In eventing, horses are graded on a variety of behaviors which include refined specifications in jumping ability, conformation, and movement. Jumping ability is graded on several aspects: poise and approach, control and scope, elegance and mental sharpness. The inspection of conformation takes into consideration physical symmetry and sustainability of athleticism. The grading of movement analyzes the trot, canter and walk.
The long history and incorporation of a variety of breeds into the eventual emergence of the Selle Francais has made for an excellent, athletic horse. In the 2002 World Equestrian Games, there were more Selle Francais horses competing than any other breed. The French team, consisting of all Selle Francais horses, won five of seven possible medals.
Horse breeding France has been a passion since the 1600’s. Today, the Haras Nationaux manages twenty-three state run stud farms whose primary goal is to improve performance horse breeds. The Selle Francais is one such example of this national effort; preserving the breed line is preserving French history as well.