Mounted or harness trotting or, most recently, flat racing… at Graignes, in the area known as Saint-Lô Agglo, in the Norman county of La Manche, every year Afasec’s Ecole des Courses Hippiques trains over 100 students from around the world in these types of racing on turf. This is perhaps not that widely known a profession, but opportunities are available and attractive.
Published on 18/10/2019
Reading time : 4''
A unique school for Normandy
It was back in 1974 that one of just five schools for horse racing in France opened its doors in Graignes, in La Manche, thanks to a push from professionals in the field: ‘‘The school relies directly on the profession, in that it’s financed by Le Trot and France Galop, under the aegis of the French Ministries of Agriculture and of the Economy and Finances,’’ explains Pascal Launey, who arrived here as a teacher back in 1992 and has been head of the establishment since 2013. Afasec, the Association de Formation et d’Action Sociale des Ecuries de Courses (roughly, the Association for Training and Social Action at Horse-Racing Stables), established a training hub covering 16 hectares in La Manche, historically dedicated to trotting, both mounted and harnessed. Located beside one of the largest race courses in France (created in 1945 by Raymond Rigault, also a co-founder of the School) the establishment offers an undeniably useful proximity to the infrastructure and professionals of the wider northwestern quarter of France. ‘‘One of our strengths is that we also have dedicated test stables, with 25 trotting horses with which our young hopefuls can train as interns,’’ adds Pascal Launey.
We receive our financing from the profession, so we need to respond to demands and diversify.
What training courses are available? A CAP Lad Cavalier d’Entraînement (or certificate of professional aptitude as a training lad rider) in two years, and a BAC PRO Conduite et Gestion de l’Entreprise Hippique (or vocational baccalaureat in the running and management of an equine enterprise) over three years, the two possible initially as a sandwich course or as an apprenticeship. ‘‘These two diplomas, in their two different forms, are accessible to school students from Years 9 and 10, and include preparation for the school leaving certificate,’’ the School’s Head explains. In both cases, students have to spend time in partner enterprises. However, those who are slightly older should rest assured, young people without a job or seeking a change of career can also be admitted to prepare for a CAP Lad, Cavalier d’Entraînement in 10 months, as part of a qualifications programme financed by the Region. In addition, as the School has the duty to respond to the needs of a profession that sometimes lacks sufficient candidates, ‘‘at the request of the flat-racing training centre at Dragey-Ronthon, near the Mont Saint Michel, at the start of the new academic year in 2019, we opened a fourth, general ‘Horse’ course, covering a variety of skills to train future workers in this particular field.’’
An intense career open to all
Students come from France, but also from Belgium, Switzerland, even Martinique. Some of the roughly 150 students admitted each year travel quite some way to receive this training in Normandy. Beyond the reputation of some of the riders (both drivers and jockeys) from the School who’ve found fame, the rounded, physically demanding trotting training both in mounted and harness trotting is the great strength of the place. ‘‘We’ve always done both. Now, a young person will have greater opportunities in their career by starting with mounted trotting, which is very physically and technically demanding, but professionals who are a bit older tend to monopolise harness trotting competitions.’’ So the establishment places a lot of importance on sports, such as jogging and weight lifting, as well as varied exercises. ‘‘For the last three years, students of ours have ended up on the podium in French championships, although our pupils aren’t members of any outside clubs,’’ the Head notes with pleasure.
Students come to us via riding schools and having shown a passion for horses, but that’s not always the case. Some contact us because they’ve followed horse racing on television or go to the races with the family.
Sometimes people have preconceived notions about these specific professions. For example, that good physical fitness is a prerequisite. ‘‘It’s a misconception that size and weight are obstacles. That dates back to a time when televised races only showed small, light jockeys,’’ Pascal Launey stresses. So what about pre-existing knowledge and training, or a passion for horses dating back to childhood? ‘‘Some students we take on have no experience and have never ridden – it really doesn’t matter! They can get on as well as the others. The important thing is to have the will to succeed, that’s it.’’ A further example of preconceptions? Contrary to what you might think, the School receives just over 50% of young women as students now. ‘‘When I first arrived in 1992, there were just eight girls at the School. In the following decades, the profession has become much more open to women, and our female students have proved successful at the races!’’
Open to the world
‘‘100% of our students find employment within three months of leaving the School, or go on to pursue further BTS studies [for a further vocational training certificate],’’ explains Pascal Launey. ‘‘They go to work in racing stables in Normandy, or across northwest France, or then abroad.’’ This last option has becoming increasingly viable thanks to the international option developed by the establishment quite a number of years ago. ‘‘For example, since 2002, we’ve had exchanges with Sweden, Finland and Norway, under the European programme Eques,’’ explains the Director. Across three days, European trainers come to observe and in some cases oversee exams – on the race course, on foot and in English –, awarding certificates. ‘‘This guarantees a certain level of English and a professional level able to command a good salary, allowing our students to apply for jobs abroad…’’ especially in the three aforementioned Nordic countries, where trotting is particularly well developed.
Be it in Europe, Australia or the USA… every year, a certain number of our students head abroad to work.
Furthermore, the Graignes establishment has been working on the development of an Erasmus plus programme, in order to be able to propose four-to-five-week courses abroad during training, or even longer, once diploma-level has been achieved. ‘‘We’ve also hosted a Chinese delegation from Qindao and Inner Mongolia interested in putting into place educational exchanges with France in equine matters generally,’’ explains Pascal Launey. If the Graignes establishment was chosen for its know-how in the matters of racing and caring for horses, further Norman establishments were also identified by this delegation on its tour of the region, such as the Lycée Agricole de la Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel at Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët (for breeding, race horses and farriery) and the Chevalait Farm, in Orne, specialising in the production of mare’s milk.