Normandy is well-known for the quality of its grassland which was responsible for its fortune in the past when it was one of the richest provinces in France. It has long been a land of animal breeding including horses of all types : work horses like the Percheron, war horses, later horses for leisure activities and racehorses, divided into gallopers and trotters.
Orne is the leading département in France for trotting horse breeding. Most of the well-known harness racing stables in France have a stud farm or shares in a stallion here. Orne is in the first three départements for racehorse breeding. Horses from Orne are regularly in the news for their racing achievements or reaching a record price during the yearling sales at Deauville.
Horses in meadows near stables have shaped the landscape of Orne
Orne has even chosen the horse as its emblem. It is a land of horses, but also of horse breeding which can be seen by observing the countryside : paddocks with high wooden rails, neatly trimmed hedges separating fields and paddocks, rows of loose boxes, oval-shaped, sandy training grounds and stud farms grouped around fine country houses.
Horses can be seen in the fields throughout the year, sometimes alone (particularly stallions), sometimes in small groups. Their colours vary from chestnut, brown, bay, dark bay, black and grey. In spring it is a joy to see the mares followed by their graceful colts or fillies.
The region has developed a complete economy around horses. Farriers travel from stable to stable. Some stables have a large number of horses, whereas others have only one or two brood mares. In villages, skilled saddlers repair and maintain leather tack items. In the old days, Norman farmers were said to keep one mare for every 16 cows as, in fact, cattle and horses don’t eat the same types of grass. Even today, the big stud farms raise beef cattle in addition to horses.