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From youngster to international Grand Prix horse: Caracole de La Roque

Tuesday, 04 October 2022
From youngster to international Grand Prix horse

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
“She is an absolute superstar of a horse,” Julien Epaillard tells World of Showjumping about Caracole de La Roque. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

Caracole de La Roque (Zandor Z x Kannan) has been one of the shooting stars of the 2022-season, jumping on to the five-star scene with France’s speed specialist Julien Epaillard in the saddle. Epaillard – currently ranked third on the Longines Ranking – got the ride on the talented 10-year-old mare in October 2021. Going from 1.30m classes at the end of last year to being selected to represent France at the FEI Jumping World Championship 2022 in Herning, Denmark, the pair quickly found a good connection. “She is an absolute superstar of a horse,” Epaillard tells World of Showjumping.

To learn more about Caracole de La Roque – nicknamed Caracool – World of Showjumping spoke with Epaillard, as well as Adeline Hecart, who rode the mare as a youngster, and whose parents Alexandrine and Michel are the breeders and owners. While the mare competes barefoot in a hackamore, it is not surprising that both Epaillard and Hecart begin describing Caracole’s story with the word ‘simple’.

Simple with a side of fire

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
"Caracole is for sure one of the best horses we have bred. She is my style, I love her," Adeline Hecart says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Caracole was born at Michel Hecart’s farm near Caen, on the west coast of France. His daughter Adeline rode the mare as a youngster, and instantly knew that Caracole had something special about her. “Caracole was born at home, and from the foals we have, we choose the ones we like to produce further – and I really, really, liked her,” Adeline Hecart recalls. “Caracole’s mother Pocahontas d’Amaury was a real quality mare, but a little bit crazy – she had a lot of blood as well. Pocahontas was a bit challenging to manage because she had so much fire in her, but she had top quality. My parents chose to use Zandor Z on her, and I think it was a good match. We have a few other foals by Zandor Z as well, and we have been very lucky; they have all been very nice horses. Caracole is for sure one of the best horses we have bred. She is my style, I love her.”

“However, we have bred other good horses as well; I think my parents have done an amazing job and the system they have created has produced many top horses,” Adeline continues. “We have around 10 foals every year, and try to breed with the best mares. My father has always been in love with breeding and producing horses – he would cancel a show to rather stay at home and ride the young ones, to make them better.”

After Caracole was introduced to the saddle, Adeline’s father told her that he believed she would be a good fit for Adeline. “Caracole was brave and bloody, the style I love,” Adeline tells. “I rode her at the very beginning of her career, and the feeling I had with her was something I have never felt before! When I rode her, I knew she was too good for me; I always knew she was one for the biggest sport. It is not every day you ride a horse like her.”

Bonfire heart

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
“She would jump into fire; she has so much character, and I think that works in her favor as well," Adeline Hecart says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Her best quality is her heart,” Adeline continues. “She would jump into fire; she has so much character, and I think that works in her favor as well. Caracole was always clear with me, unless I made a circle – she never touched a pole. She has so much blood, she is so careful. For me, she is everything I imagine a top horse should be, she is my dream horse. Due to her character, you need to have her relaxed – but not too much. When she was younger and we were at shows where we had a forest nearby, I would always hack her out a lot; she never gets tired. I think the lifestyle we have at home fitted her perfectly. Our system is very simple: Our horses are barefoot, they are outside together, and the very hot horses live outside day and night when the weather allows it. This way, when they are outside and are a bit awake even during the night, they are easier to handle and calm down naturally; it is good for the very hot type of horses.”

Adeline rode Caracole until the mare was seven, and then her father Michel took over the reins. “I told my father that he should ride Caracole as well, to give her better flat work and more experience,” she explains.

Herning – a dream come true

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
"Caracole compete in Herning was something we have worked towards all our lives, it was a dream come true: We bred her, have done everything with her, kept her until that point instead of selling her – even though there has been a lot of interest in her over the years. Therefore, it is hard to put those feelings into words," Adeline Hecart tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

When Caracole was eight, Julien Epaillard – a family friend – was given the ride on the mare. “In my opinion, Julien is one of the best riders in the world,” Hecart says. “We have worked a lot with him, and it has always gone well, so we continued our co-operation with Caracole. I think Caracole will be one of the best horses in the world. I hope she will have a long and successful career with Julien, and if she would be sold, I hope she ends up in a good home, where she can fully show what she is able to do. It was very stressful to follow them in Herning during the World Championships; I felt a little bit ridiculous. We all watched the competitions together in Deauville, and I could not sit still – I was so stressed. Seeing Caracole compete in Herning was something we have worked towards all our lives, it was a dream come true: We bred her, have done everything with her, kept her until that point instead of selling her – even though there has been a lot of interest in her over the years. Therefore, it is hard to put those feelings into words.”

An absolute superstar

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ. “Her story from where we started to where we are now has been amazing,” Julien Epaillard says about Caracole de La Roque. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Her story from where we started to where we are now has been amazing,” Julien Epaillard says about Caracole. “She is an absolute superstar of a horse: She has the last scope, she is super careful and has a lot of blood. When I first started to ride her, the only issue was that I did not have so much control. Now, every day, we are improving our connection and I believe that with a little bit more experience, she will also become easier to ride.”

“Michel jumped her up to 1.45m classes,” Epaillard continues. “When the Covid-pandemic broke out, all his horses were put in the field, and when the situation started to get better, he called and asked me to try Caracole. I started with her in 1.30m classes in St. Tropez in October 2021, and at the end of the year she won a two-star Grand Prix in Valence. After that I took her to Oliva, where she won a three-star Grand Prix and then she did a few five-star shows and placed second in a five-star Grand Prix in St. Tropez.”

After debuting on five-star level, Caracole caught the eye of French Chef d’Equipe Henk Nooren, who was keen to have her as part of the French A-squad. “Henk asked me to ride for the French team with Caracole,” Epaillard recalls. “We were a part of the team in Rotterdam, but only as reserves, as I felt she still needed a little bit more experience on this level. We jumped the Grand Prix in Rottedam and came second, so I felt confident to bring her into the team for the Nations Cup in Knokke. In Knokke, she was double clear and we won the jump-off.”

A winner’s mentality

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ. "She has a great mind; she is not spooky, she is brave and her mentality really helped us in Herning. She would go through fire for you," Julien Epaillard says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

After their steady progress during the summer and the success in Knokke, Caracole and Epaillard were selected to be a part of the French team at the FEI Jumping World Championship in Herning, Denmark – the first senior championship for both of them. In Herning, the pair delivered a fantastic round on the opening day, taking the lead individually and holding on to it with another clear on day one of the team final. “I am happy with how she did in Herning,” Epaillard reflects on their championship debut. “Even though she is only ten, and did not have the last experience, she jumped great. She has a great mind; she is not spooky, she is brave and her mentality really helped us in Herning. She would go through fire for you. She was totally with me from day one, which made my job easier. All in all, I think it was a strong performance from her to be a debut on that level. After the World Championship, we gave Caracole a break and now she feels fresh and in good form. She came back to compete in Rome, where she won a 1.55m class and then continued to Sentower Park, where she won the four-star Grand Prix. I am very happy to have a horse like her in my team, and thankful to the Hecart-family for their trust in me. You can always get unlucky, but jumping a Grand Prix with a horse like Caracole, I know we have a good chance of winning; she is very competitive and fast – she has everything you need in a top horse.”

 

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