Sunday, 29 November 2009

No more horses in Cluny?

La Tuilerie Website

 Cluny and horses go together. Since Napoleon re-established The Haras Nationaux (National Studs) and built one of the establishments on the grounds of the abbey in Cluny, Cluny has been inextricably linked with horses. One of his reasons for building in Cluny was to prevent the re-building of the once powerful abbey, but in reality it transformed Cluny. Cluny was able to leave its faded-glory days behind and became an important horse town.

The Haras Nationaux were created by decree on 4th July 1806. The country was split up into 6 so called “arrondissements” each of which had 1 stud and several depots totalling 36 establishments throughout the country, all involved in producing horses for the military. Of the 36 establishments created by Napoleon, only 12 are left with Cluny being one of the oldest and most established.

The changes over the years have seen the Haras Nationaux move away from their military role and develop and adapt with the times. The core thrusts today concentrate not only on breeding horses, but also on horsemanship, horse racing and horse championships.  Because of that, Cluny has a thriving Hippodrome where flat racing, harness trotting and steeple chasing take place in the many meetings per year and numerous private riding stables and private breeders have sprung up to meet the increasing demand from the public for horses for leisure purposes. The most recent addition has been the Équivallée - a show jumping venue next door to the Haras. The creation of this facility was meant to cement the future of horses in Cluny. The General Council of Saône-et-Loire committed a total of eight million Euros to finance the infrastructure of Équivallée in 2005 and in May 2009, the first phase was completed which included an all-weather ring and a safe and secure area for visiting horses to be stabled. So far just under 2.5 million Euros has been invested and the second phase, which involves building a large stable complex, is expected for 2010. The Équivallée is rapidly becoming one of the most popular show jumping venues in France because of its facilities and location.

 Having said all that, prior to all this investment, in 2003, a new government policy was announced which had the objective of altering the fundamental structure of the Haras. Last spring, the merger between the Haras Nationaux and the École Nationale d’Équitation (the school set up to train the Cadre Noir [the elite of the French cavalry]) was announced and it will become effective on 1 January 2010. The merger will result in the creation of a single public institution for the horse industry and for horse riding in France. To be effective and efficient, this will mean closures around the country. There are currently 22 Haras Nationaux in France and one huge site of the École Nationale d’Équitation, which on its own is as big as, if not bigger than, 3 or 4 of the Haras sites put together. Something will have to give and the threat of closure of the Haras at Cluny is real and raises serious concerns for the area.

But what will become of the public investment in Équivallée if the Haras is closed? This new site has become a good source of jobs for the area and it provides a significant income for the town. The closure of the Haras at Cluny could force the General Council of Saône-et-Loire to re-think its investment plans and that could deal a fatal blow to Équivallée and it will be disastrous for the local horse breeders and for the development of equine tourism in the area.

So will Cluny lose its horses? I don’t know, but if the locals have anything to do with it, the Haras won’t be shut down! Watch this space.

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