World of Showjumping
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Julien Epaillard – on going fast, going slow and listening to his horses

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson. Julien Epaillard with Safari D'Auge, one of the successful horses that he and his wife Susana have bred themselves. Photos (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

He is known as one of the fastest riders on the circuit, but sitting down with Julien Epaillard World of Showjumping discovers that there is much more to the French rider than his speed in the ring.

Despite being a familiar face on the five-star circuit with countless of big victories under his belt, Julien has never been a part of the French team at a major championship. “I have never done a senior championship,” he tells. “If the Chef d’Equipe thinks I have a horse competitive enough for a championship, of course I would be happy to go – but that is not my priority. I want to go only if I can be competitive,” he explains. “And, I don’t wake up for that every day – I wake up every day to be with my horses and to do my best: To make sure my horses feel good and jump good,” he continues.

“To be honest, living every day is my biggest motivation – the quality of the life I have: I am very lucky. I can make a living with my passion and I get to do what I enjoy the most every day,” Julien says. “That alone is enough for me.”

Based in Lisieux, near Deauville in Normandy, France, Julien was born into a horse family. “My parents had a big equestrian centre and I started to ride very young, when I was about three years old,” he tells. “I have two brothers and one sister, but I am the only one riding – our parents never pushed us to ride. My siblings didn’t like it, but I did and our parents always encouraged us to do what we like. So, they helped me when I said I wanted to ride,” he recalls. “When I was 16-years-old I was finished with school, and by then I already had a few owners and some horses to ride.” 

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson "I am very lucky. I can make a living with my passion and I get to do what I enjoy the most every day,” Julien says.

Julien’s Spanish wife Susana is also a rider, and the pair runs a stable together. “We have about 30 horses all together, and we also do some breeding. We breed about six to ten foals every year, and for my competition string I have about eight horses at the moment,” Julien explains. Winning the Global Champions Tour Grand Prix in Paris last summer was a special moment for the couple; Usual Suspect D’Auge (Jarnac x Papillon Rouge) is their first own bred horse to compete – and win – on five-star level. “D’Auge is the name that follows the horses we have bred,” Julien tells. “Paris was an incredible moment for us.”

Normandy is known for being a base for many top riders, and also the cradle of French breeding where some of the world’s most successful horses have been born. ”It is a famous area for breeding. It is also easy to go to the shows, and we are in the middle of it,” Julien tells. “If clients come and want to buy a horse, in a circle of 50 kilometres they can go to 15 stables – it is good for everyone.”

When we ask him if Normandy is the secret to the French dominance in showjumping, Julien laughs. “I don’t know the secret! But we have a long culture of breeding horses, and we have a lot of shows. I think that as a country, France organizes the most five-star shows in Europe. Riding is very popular in France; we have the third biggest federation after football and judo – it is very normal to ride.”

Being on top of the world requires constant learning, and Julien knows this. “Sure, I love John Whitaker, Marcus Ehning – I look at all the top riders. I don’t have one special idol, I like to look at everyone and try to learn by seeing how they ride, manage, prepare. If you want to ride with them, you need to look and learn,” he says. “In my career, I have worked with a lot of trainers. I started with my parents, who rode on good level. Hubert Bourdy trained me, and I also spent time at Rodrigo Pessoa’s and Eric Navet’s stables – simply to see how they work, how they manage everything. I was there to learn, to see something else,” he tells. “Now Bertrand de Bellabre comes every month to my place, he watches all my rounds and helps me with flat work. He was my Chef d’Equipe when I was a junior. I called him a year ago and asked him to come – it is always good to have someone looking at what you are doing, to get other ideas. Sometimes you need someone to tell you if you are being stupid…”

“I am very competitive, I have always been like that,” Julien explains further about his motivation. “I love to compete, but I also like other aspects of the sport; I like to breed, to study the evolution of the horse… Starting with a horse when it is 4-years-old and finish like we did with Usual Suspect, I enjoy everything about the process,” he tells.

“Of course, I like to go to the five-star shows, but I also like to go to a two and three-star show sometimes, to jump smaller and easier classes. I think it is important for the horses, to take it easier sometimes – and I try to listen to my horses,” he explains. “I love working with animals – we learn something new about them every day and we can also learn about better management each day. Sometimes we make mistakes, but we have to learn from these mistakes and not repeat them. For me, this is a fantastic job; it never gets boring, there is always something new, something to keep things interesting!”

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson Julien with Cristallo A LM: “What I like in a horse, is a very good head – they have to be fighting with a big heart in the ring," he says.

“I think my strongest point as a rider is that I am fast, but I think it is also my biggest weakness,” Julien reveals about the secret to his winning ways. “Sometimes, if I prepare for a bigger class, I try to go slow. But if I think I can go fast, I try – and sometimes I lose, sometimes I win. I like the feeling of going fast – I did motocross when I was younger.”

When Julien looks for a horse, he tries not to judge the book by its cover. “What I like in a horse, is a very good head – they have to be fighting with a big heart in the ring. Of course, they need to be careful and scopey. But more important than all that, is to have the horse with you – a horse that likes the sport, and wants to do it,” he explains. “If they don’t look so good, that is not a problem – as long as they want to try.”

Cristallo A LM (Casall Ask x Corofino I) has been a perfect example of just that for Julien. “I started to ride Cristallo when he was 7-years-old and he is now fourteen. He is fantastic – he has a big personality, he is something different. He does not have the last scope, but he makes that up with his big personality. I really love him, he is a really special horse.”

The only thing certain about Julien’s future, is that whatever he does, horses will be included. “Maybe with the World Cup Final in Paris, I try to do a few qualifiers if my horses feel  good,” Julien says about his plans for the winter. And on longer term? “I will always be living with horses, for sure. I love to be in my stable – I cannot be away more than a few days!”


Text © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen // Pictures © Jenny Abrahamsson

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