Marion Vignaud, 40 years old, in fourth place in the world ranking in the one-horse driving discipline, won the last qualifier for the World Championship of the Haras du Pin in Chablis from August 3rd to 7th. Meeting with one of the pillars of the French team. ๐Œ๐š๐ซ๐ข๐จ๐ง ๐•๐ข๐ ๐ง๐š๐ฎ๐, ๐š ๐ฉ๐ข๐ฅ๐ฅ๐š๐ซ ๐จ๐Ÿ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐…๐ซ๐ž๐ง๐œ๐ก ๐ญ๐ž๐š๐ฆ

Like many children, Marion discovered horseback riding in an equestrian center, then started competing in show jumping and eventing. Discouraged by the excessive severity of a coach, she left the grounds for a year, but her passion proved to be the strongest. At the age of eighteen, the young girl got close to horses again, but this time in carriage driving thanks to the Haflinger horses of her father Michel, president of the association of the Attelages de l’Yonne in Chablis where the Vignaud family lives. Elle sโ€™initie sans grande motivation ร  cette nouvelle discipline, mais la compรฉtition รฉveille bientรดt chez elle un vรฉritable intรฉrรชt.She started without much motivation to this new discipline, but the competition soon aroused a real interest in her. With the help of her father, whom she convinced to compete with her in young horse events, Marion broke in and trained her own ponies, then her horses before showing them in competitions, a strategy to which she has remained faithful. The results are not long in coming. Associated with her first horse, Winston W, a KWPN gelding son of Marvel, which she acquired at the age of four, Marion successfully tackled the international level as early as 2012 while her partner, ranked Elite on the young horse circuit at five and six, was nine years old. At the time of retirement, in 2018, Winston totalled five victories, fourteen podiums and five Top 10 placings in thirty international competitions, including a bronze medal at the 2018 World Championship in Kronenberg.

๐Ž๐ง๐ž-๐ก๐จ๐ซ๐ฌ๐ž ๐๐ซ๐ข๐ฏ๐ข๐ง๐ , ๐š ๐ฉ๐š๐ฌ๐ฌ๐ข๐จ๐ง

Marion, a rider before being a driver, confides that she is passionate about driving with one horse. “It is a very specific discipline in which the expectations are very different from driving with a pair or four horses. Dressage is very similar to what you can do in the saddle, because we have a single pair of reins, whereas in pair driving the driver has double guides grouped in a single pair of reins. In four-horse driving, where the driver uses long guides, the synchronization of the whole takes precedence over the pure training of the horse. I am passionate about how the pair I form with my horse works, about being able to go the extra mile, and about making the discipline as close as possible to what you’re looking for under the saddle. Marion explains, at the training stage,the key is to start by putting the codes in place under the saddle, with a lot of help from the voice. The next step is to work on foot with long reins, during which she has to communicate with her horse without the help of her body weight or legs, before finally applying the codes she has learned to harness work, a long evolution that allows her to reproduce with less and less help what she obtains under the saddle. ยซ The connection with the horse is crucial, because since we are without our aids, apart from the reins and the whip, it is essential that the horse is totally confident and very attentive, otherwise the exercise could turn into a test of strength. ยป

๐“๐ก๐ž ๐ญ๐ก๐ซ๐ž๐ž ๐ญ๐ž๐ฌ๐ญ๐ฌ, ๐š ๐œ๐ก๐š๐ฅ๐ฅ๐ž๐ง๐ ๐ž

Besides the search for a connection with her horse, Marion particularly appreciates the fact that the driving competitions take place over three tests, as in eventing, one of her favorite disciplines at the beginning. She explains: “In dressage, the balance with a horse is fragile, and it is even more so in driving because the horse has to pull a car. Getting the correct gaits, not deteriorated by the traction, is a long term work, especially as we have more and more sand tracks which offer more resistance to the wheels, and require an additional traction effort. In the shoulder in – a figure in which the horse is curved as if on a circle to the right but moves in a straight line – the horse can curve because its shoulders are free. Previously, we had leg cessions – the horse moves sideways by crossing his legs – a complicated figure because the wheels of the carriage only move forward and forced the horse to push the stretcher on the side he was moving, which was not very logical. The dressage test includes all the transitions and variations of gaits, as well as reinback like in mounted dressage. There was talk of including the canter changes in the test, but driving is a fairly old discipline that is struggling to evolve. Most of the horses are of Dutch breed, coming from working horses, or trotters that have difficulties in cantering. As long as the cavalry is not made up of a majority of dressage horses, it is complicated to ask for changes of leg at the canter. At the moment, we are doing canter-trot and trot-canter transitions, which is not ideal preparation for canter changes, but the current exercise is suitable for most horses. The horse is expected to be expressive on the dressage, to stay balanced, while on the marathon, we ask him to be a little flat, to go fast, but also to show strength and reactivity. The cone competition requires a horse that is physically very well prepared and that must be able to recover from the previous day’s effort on the marathon, to be attentive, available and very precise in order to complete a faultless and fast course. The speed required is increasingly important, namely 250m/minute, which is sometimes very difficult to achieve depending on the course. The courses without fault in time are more and more rare, because we have half-turns, zig zags and other serpentines in which we have to pass in slow motion, which obliges us to make peaks at 280m/minute on certain sections. Cone competition is often the judge of the day” concludes Marion.

๐…๐ข๐ซ๐ฌ๐ญ ๐๐ฎ๐š๐ฅ๐ข๐ญ๐ฒ, ๐š ๐œ๐ก๐š๐ฆ๐ฉ๐ข๐จ๐ง ๐ฆ๐ข๐ง๐

In 2013, while Winston was performing on the international circuit, Marion thought about the next generation and went to the Netherlands where she acquired First Quality, a dark bay KWPN gelding, son of Gribaldi, then three years old and just broken in under saddle. The young hopeful, destined by his pedigree to dressage, quickly discovered driving. “His biggest strength is his mental state,” Marion says. “He is very well in his head, he has a lot of blood, but remains available. I trained him from the very beginning, as I do with all my horses. I choose them young, I break them in, I train them on the young horse circuit under saddle and in driving, taking the time to build them up, which allows me to know perfectly what they have learned and their skills.” First Quality, now 12 years old, is totally different from her previous partner Winston, to whom she pays tribute for allowing her to grow over the years. “First has adapted well to the evolution of the discipline, especially dressage where we have more and more canter, collected trot, and lateral work, which allows me to show him off. I was lucky enough to find the rare pearl. Educated with care and kindness, First Quality has been successful over the seasons, in events reserved for young horses, then in international competitions up to the highest level. On the twenty five events they compete, First and Marion total ten victories, ten podiums, and five places of honor, including a very nice fourth place at the last World Championship in Pau in 2021. The 2022 season is looking very promising, as the couple won the CAI3* in Kronenberg in April and placed second at the CAI3* in Saumur in early June Since then, Marion, a perfectionist, has participated in a national competition to make some adjustments, and won the last qualifying event for the Haras du Pin World Championship, organized by the Vignaud family in Chablis from August 3 to 7. “The stakes of this competition are very high” confides Marion, who despite a record of achievements that would make more than one leader pale, continues her preparation with rigor. “I concentrate on cone competition at least once a week on a measured and timed course, to be in the required rhythm. I have to be vigilant, because First has a lot of blood and he tends to heat up if I repeat the exercise too often. It’s up to me to string together courses to be in the loop, while keeping him cool in his head and listening even if he wants to get into the game.”

๐‹๐ž ๐๐ข๐ง, ๐š ๐Ÿ๐š๐ฆ๐ข๐ฅ๐ข๐š๐ซ ๐œ๐จ๐ฎ๐ซ๐ฌ๐ž

For the past five years, Marion has participated every year in the Haras du Pin competition. She observes that the marathon is known to be physical, because of the difference in altitude, as it is often the case in France, but also because it is located in a basin, and it can be hot depending on the weather. The champion says she is eager to test the magnificent facilities recently built, including the large sand track at the foot of the castle “very well managed by the organization teams, which lends itself perfectly to the practice of driving as well as show jumping. We have confidence in the organization which successfully completed the world championship of driving with a pony last year. Moreover, almost all the obstacles come from the World Equestrian Games and are of great quality. ยป In the meantime, Marion, who helps her husband, a winegrower in Chablis, continues to prepare her lead horse, continues to train two young hopefuls of five years old, and takes full advantage of this discipline on a daily basis, the beauty of which lies in the sharing it allows with family and friends, both in training and in competition.