“More than 8000 spectators, 250 participants, 30 military vehicles, 40 odd tanks, 80 horses”. Every year the Loire valley in France plays host to the world famous Carrousel show and this year, for the first time, I treated myself to a ticket!
This event is one of the world’s premier military shows, and highlights the supreme horsemanship of the national riding school in conjunction with the restored armoured vehicles from the local Musee des Blindes.
The Carrousel of Saumur is above all an equestrian demonstration of high quality in which the Military Schools of Saumur, and the Ecuyers of the Cadre Noir de Saumur (the professors at the Ecole Nationale / Institut Français du Cheval et de l’Equitation) show their skill. In between these displays of traditional cavalry, more modern mechanized 'horses' are put on display. Local tank museum the Musee des Blindes provides so rather noisier entertainment, and gets to get out some of their 200 odd still working AFVs to thrill the crowd of visitors. This event has a long tradition, this year was its 163rd anniversary (though I'm not sure tanks have attended every year!) and is firmly based on the daily routine of the military schools of Saumur and the Ecuyers of the Cadre Noir.
The Carrousel is also the opportunity for Saumur to raise high its colours as the capital of French riding. The town and its equestrian committee have joined together at this event to launch Operation ‘Horseback for All’ (the discovery of riding for the young from 7 to 77 years old).
With a crash of symbols and a thrill of flutes the Opening Ceremony began. After the marching band played a few numbers and the soldiers of the Cavalry school did a grand presentation of arms and colours, one of the officers of the top horsemen of France the “Cadre Noir” came out and explained the obstacle course the single horse he was controlling how he was making him leap the jumps. Jumps installed by the young cavalrymen whose efforts all day were almost as well choreographed as the horse!
The Cadre Noir then came out and showed their skill in an impressive riding display that showed the horses rearing in unison and kicking all at once – these horsemen have their own show every year ( in the week after the Carrousel) they were truly very impressive in their skill.
Three riders came out and showed synchronized dancing horses who really leapt from the ground with each well-choreographed move. This was followed by several white horses that jumped several obstacles and then, after celebrated with a well-earned glass of champagne (local of course), the Cadre Noir perfomed some amazing synchronised horse manoeuvres and left all in awe.
Next were some of the younger cavalrymen of the school who did several exercises riding at full speed and spearing high loops with a lance and then low head targets with a sword – these younger soldiers looked very promising.
Next came some light relief from the awe inspiring horsemanship - not that this was any less skilled! Several horsemen and women played a game of “catch the ribbon” which showed their skill, and then we were shown an exercise in “anyone can jump a horse” when the group of cavalry officers rode with a horse who has a dummy strapped to it’s back - there's still hope for us all!
This horse followed the “pack” and jumped the obstacles many times by itself just to follow the other horses. Quite fun really! The whole school of officers then took to the jumps in pairs in unison, then in small groups, then all together at the same time – amazing to see
Next came the roar of motorbikes – two motocross bikes teamed up to compare themselves with two horse-borne riders – jumping in unison and then all four together. This ended up with a bike versus horse sprint at the end of the display!
Parachutists then thrilled us with a precision jump from above the arena to them all landing facing outward in all four points of the large circle.
Next came the large motorbike show – tens of moto riders – all riding in pattern and then crossing and mounting ramps in unison – no one even looking like baulking – a great display.
You can see what I was waiting for in these pictures – the armoured show – squeezed into just over an hour this was a small part of the show but amazing to see these old beasts roar into life.
The mechanized and armoured scenes by the Ecoles Militaires de Saumur were just as good as the horse show. Unlike Bovington Tankfest this is a story of warfare. From soldiers on foot to horseback – to horsemen with guns to the first armoured vehicles – on display were vehicles from 1917 till the present, starting with the tanks of WWI and how they won over the infantryman.
Next came the WWII tanks – these were positioned in opposite from each other and then stood off while pyrotechnics blasted these tanks “won” and “lost” in each battle through WWII.
Rommel, Monty and even Charles de Gaulle made an appearance as well as ‘Ol Blood and Guts' Patton.
Next were the Middle Eastern desert war and the Korean Conflict, which lead into the Vietnam
war and the siege of Dien Bien Phu. The NATO intervention in the Conflict in Bosnia was next portrayed and these lead into the new vehicles in the French armoury with the very impressive “LeClerk” tank which positively tore up the arena – most impressive!
That was the end of the show – we were able to look at some of the vehicles and stooge around a bit before we all had to go – just to see these vehicles driving around is a real thrill and for someone like me who didn’t particularly go to see the horses I found this part of the show just as engaging as the tank show.
If you are going to Samur for the Carrousel then please do take two or three days – go to the show and on the other day to the amazingly filled AFV museum the Musee des Blindes – We stayed at the excellent Anne D'anjou Hôtel where we were looked after seamlessly by Marie-Lyn who went above and beyond in securing us tickets. Thanks as well to the Carrousel staff for their hospitality!