If we were to ask you to guess which horse breed dominated the top eight places in the 2020 Longines FEI World Cup Arab League Al Shira’aa Grand Prix, what would you guess? KWPN, Oldenburg or even Belgian Warmblood? Nope!
Vouloir c'est pouvoir
The breed began with the now extinct Norfolk Roadster
Although the 2020 Al Shira’aa Grand Prix was won by Christian Ahlmann, riding the Oldenburg stallion Solid Gold Z and third place went to Micheal Pender on his Irish sports horse HHS Calais, it was the French Selle Français breed which secured the second, fourth, fifth and eighth places in this year’s CSI4* final.
Abdel Said secured a second place with Arpege du Ru, while Chad Fellows and Vinci de Beaufour took fourth. Fifth place went to Maysam Bishat’s Un Dollar De Bondel and Gerfried Puck’s Bingo du Parc took eighth.
From Work Horse to Champion
A Warmblood of sorts, yet not quite, The Selle Français is unique in the sense it arrived through the work of many small breeders, via the crossing of three distinct horse breeds and all only 60 years ago.
The Selle Français is lighter in build than its German Warmblood contemporaries, thanks to its high percentage of Thoroughbred and Arabian blood. Although few compete in dressage, it’s the breed’s athleticism and speed which has seen it become synonymous with top-level jumping and eventing.
Like all Warmblood breeds, the Selle Français was created as Europe’s need for work horses dwindled and a new recreational and sports buyer entered the scene looking for athleticism and scope.
As with everything, the French breeders could only work with what they had, which at that time was thousands of traditional heavy draft workhorse mares. Previously employed for farm work and pulling artillery in times of war, these mares were numerous and pretty much redundant, so the race began to create lighter, faster, performance horses.
To refine the mares, stallions from the English-bred Norfolk Roadster and the English Thoroughbred breeds were crossed with the mares.
The now extinct Norfolk Roadster, was according to records of the time, a heavier-set Hackney type horse, revered for its fast, flashy movement and endurance. Used both under saddle and between the shafts, it was created to carry the gentry across terrain not accessible by conventional carriage. All over France, small farms and breeders worked furiously to create a new style of sports horse, fulfilling the demands of fast, brave and scopey to meet the demands of the emerging pleasure riding market.
In 1958, the Selle Français Stud Book was launched in an effort to bring together and unify breeders of this ‘type’ of horse. Regular crossbreeding with Thoroughbreds still took place and the new Selle Français breed encompassed a vast mix of characteristics and types. In 2003, it was decided to divide the stud book into two creating one for pure Selle Français and another for those of half-blood, but by 2009, this was revoked, and the book went back to single entry.
Today the stud book remains open for horses approved by the Selle Français Association and many of the top performance horses today hold German, Dutch and Belgian Warmblood lines. Interestingly, Vinci de Beaufour holds KWPN lines and Maysam Bisharat’s Un Dollar de Blondel is half German Warmblood.
The Big-Name Stallions
There are several stallions which are considered the cornerstone of the breed and these include; Ibrahim, Ultimate, Almé, and Cor de la Bruyère. One of the most consistent and fascinating lines though, must be those from Thoroughbred stallion Ibrahim, whose blood has created and continues to create- some of the most impressive sports horses of the 20th Century.
A Line of Champions
Ibrahim (1952 - 1973)
Bought for 500 francs at a horse fair, Ibrahim, quickly rose to prominence and was snapped up by the State Stud. At first clients were not particularly interested in him and his first few years were spent covering heavy Draft mares. That was until his progeny began showing up in the world’s biggest competitions. From 1966 onwards he became the most popular stallion at the Stud. Today his blood can be found in many of the very best Selle Français showjumping champions around the globe.
Alme (Z) (1966 - 1991)
This son of Ibrahim, Alme remains the only stallion to sire two world champions and three Olympic horses. An international showjumper himself, his progeny were so impressive that at one point in the eighties an entire Olympic team could have been made from his offspring.
Jalisco B (1975-1994)
Son of Alme, Jalasco B was also an international showjumper in his own right even making it to the Olympics. He is also one of the most successful sires of show jumpers and is father to Quidam De Revel, Rocket M and Papillion Rouge. These family lines still course through today’s top jumpers, in fact, three of the four horses from the 2020 Longines Al Shira’aa Grand Prix have direct links to the Ibrahim line. Ibrahim is great-grandsire to Arpege du Ru, while Jalisco B is the great grandsire of both Un Dollar Du Bondel and Bingo Du Parc.
Keeping it in the Family
Across much of France, sports horse breeding remains a long-standing family affair, with many studs now passing onto the third generation. According to the Selle Français breed registry, there are approximately 8000 registered breeders in total, however the average size is only 1.7 mares, although there are around 700 approved stallions.
One family operation has seen their fortunes change from post war horse traders to global breeding superstars is the Levallois family. Mr Levallois senior, originally a dealer in work horses during the 40s, observed that by the 50s demand was dwindling. He sold everything except the very best and finest of what he had, and crossed them with Thoroughbreds to add agility and refinement.
One foal he named Le Tot De Semilly, and gave to his son to ride. This partnership was to go on to become one of the most famous in French showjumping history, and between 1988 and 1991, the pair won 22 international and 63 national Grand Prix and almost €200,000 in prize money. Le Tot was also the first French horse to be sponsored by the French Federation.
Strong lineage began with Ibrahim (above)
Alme (Z) (above)
Jalisco B (above)
Le Tot De Semilly (above)
Launching the Semilly Stud, the Levallois family are one of the most respected Selle Français performance horse breeders in the industry today. Interestingly, both Vinci de Beaufour and Bingo Du Parc are descendants of Le Tot De Semilly. Today the Selle Français remains one of the top performance horses in the world. In 2019, the Selle Français Studbook won the overall title at the FEI WBFSH World Breeding Eventing Championships for Young Horses 2019.
Diamant De Similly has remained in the top three WBFSH showjumping sires list since 2013. While many more of the WBFSH top 10 stallions have considerable Selle Français blood.