After winning team silver and individual gold at the 2002 World Games in Jerez and at the European Championships in Punchestown a year later, the French eventing team is certainly a strong contender for Athens.
Reigning World Champion Jean Teulère on his Jerez mount Espoir De La Mare and European Champion Nicolas Touzaint with Galan De Sauvagère are the team’s strongest assets.
At the age of 50, with a fourth place at the Atlanta Olympics under his belt, Jean Teulère is the most experienced rider in the team. His partner will be Espoir De La Mare, a 12-year-old Selle Francais who was fourth at Fontainebleau in March.
Nicolas Touzaint, team trainer Thierry Touzaint’s nephew, is only 24 but has great results on his part-Thoroughbred grey Galan De Sauvagère. This horse has been precocious from the outset, winning Le Lion d’Angers as a six- and seven-year-old. In preparation for Athens, they’ve done — and won — the full series of French championship events.
“Galan De Sauvagère is a competitive horse in all three phases,” says Nicolas. “He has good paces and a huge gallop, which he can keep up forever. He isn’t afraid of any fence and has a cool temper.
“Sure I feel some pressure, especially since the horse has such a chance, but I focus on listening to his needs so that I can work out the best preparation for him. Galan is in great form. I’ll compete at a show jumping competition and at Vittel three-star to keep him sharp.
“I think the British are our strongest opponents, with the odd one or two Americans, Australians and Kiwis, who always show at the Olympics, and some riders from Finland, Belgium and Sweden.”
Arnaud Boiteau, a 30-year-old teacher at the French National Riding Centre in Saumur, is also on the squad. He completed Badminton in 2002 on his Selle Francais gelding Expo Du Moulin and was a European silver team medallist (individual 10th).
“I’ve been riding Expo for five years,” says Arnaud. “He’s a phenomenal galloper and has good dressage potential, although he can get excitable. I’ve been working on this.
“We’re all obsessed with the form of the horses. In France, unlike in Britain, we don’t each have many horses for the big events. This is our biggest weakness, it was to our credit that we won at Punchestown and Jerez with so few mounts to count on.”
Didier Courrèges, an army rider and a teacher at Saumur, is included on Debat D’Estruval, an Anglo-Arab selected for the Sydney Games until the horse hurt himself. They won the Pratoni three-star last May.
Cedric Lyard is the least experienced rider on the squad, with Fine Merville. They were on the silver medal-winning team in Jerez, but had a cross-country fall. Their dressage is usually quite good but the show jumping is certainly the mare’s weak point.