The organizers of Jumping International Dinard pulled off a rose-colored renaissance over the weekend of July 30th – August 3rd, as this much admired competition regained its five-star rating and welcomed an elite group of riders back to its rolling, international grass field.
I didn’t know what to expect at Dinard – as an American I’d heard little if anything about it, even though it has a history that stretches back to 1912. And I’d never been to the area, a vacation spot in the Brittany area of France that looks out over a quiet bay to the walled city of St. Malo.
But, being a French show, I was optimistic that it would be a good weekend. French audiences are among my favorites, and I can’t say that I’ve seen a more beautiful area in Europe than the Normandy/Brittany part of France. So I packed into my bite-size, black Fiat rental car and set my GPS to find this particular French show.
No matter who you are, whether a rider, a groom, an official or a member of the media, we all have a mental list of must haves that help predict if the weekend will be something to trudge through, or enjoy. Do this long enough and that list whittles down to a short, critical group of “must haves” in order to work efficiently and enjoy the weekend. Dinard was the 12th show I’d been to since May, and my particular list goes something like this: secure media center/coffee and food available/strong wifi/good schedule/arena access/scenic venue. For the riders, the list goes something like: permanent stabling/room to ride/good conditions/helpful organizers/good prizes, etc etc.
Upon arrival it became clear that this would be a weekend to enjoy. Even with two rings running, the schedule was relaxed with the five star classes ending early enough to enjoy the rest of the day. The grass field at Dinard has long been regarded as one of the most beautiful, and also one of the most technical in Europe. It made for an exciting photography environment for me, and a very good challenge for the riders, who had to cope with the natural dips and slants of the field as they galloped around their course.
And isn’t that how show jumping used to be, before the days of all-weather footing and perfectly groomed arenas? Saturday’s Tropicana Derby isn’t the biggest one out there, but with an open water to gallop through and a derby bank to slide down, the competition harkened back to Dinard’s roots as a 1900s military training grounds.
Dinard was host to the 1985 European Championships, and the current organizers of Jumping International Dinard hope to make a successful bid to bring the European Championships back to their show. With that goal in mind, when organizer Daniele Mars and her family took over the facility in 2012, they began working to regain the top FEI rating in the world. In 2013 it was run as a CSI3*, in 2014 a CSI4*, and finally this year it regained the 5* rating that it hopes to keep for years to come.
This year’s edition hosted a prestigious leg of the 8-stop FFE French Tour, and along with the French stars who competed there, over 25,000 spectators poured into the venue on Saturday and Sunday to watch.
And it was those fans who really made the show. No one, not even the best riders in the world, look good against empty seats. But they do look like the best in the world when they ride under an arched bridge filled with people, into a grass arena that is packed on all sides with energetic show jumping fans. Of course, the riders then have to go out and prove they were the best, but whether they jumped clear or left the ring in defeat at Dinard, they were cheered, supported and lauded by the absolutely electric crowd that followed their every move.
That’s what makes a horse show. That’s what makes real sport. Jumping International Dinard met all the “must haves”, and then some.