Until the 20th century, the main use for saddle horses in France was for war. The horses chosen for this purpose had to be courageous, strong, sensible and willing, with good minds. With the arrival of mechanization, French breeders began to focus on producing sport horses for the increasing popularity of the competition and leisure riding industry. In 1958 the Selle Français Stud Book was created using regional horses including Anglo-Normans, Vendéens and Charolais horses.
Horses registered with the Selle Français stud book must undergo rigorous inspections examining their conformation, gaits and performance. Other breeds such as Thoroughbred, Arabian, Anglo-Arabian and French Trotter may also be used for breeding upon passing inspection.
Bred throughout France, the Selle Français is exported across the globe for use at the top levels of equestrian sport. The World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses currently (July 2018) ranks the Selle Français fourth on the show jumping list and sixth on the eventing list.
The character of the Selle Français is described thus: Performance and Versatility, Energy, Elegance, Strength and Intelligence. Conformation-wise there is no standard model because of the breed’s diversity of origin; however, they are usually tall (15.1-17.3 hands) with a strong skeletal structure, a fine head, sloping shoulders, powerful legs, strong hindquarters ‒ an all-around athlete. While the selection criteria for breeding stock was originally based on physical ability, breeders now focus on temperament.
Coat colours are typically chestnut or bay with white on the lower legs, with the occasional grey.
Selle Français are successful at the international level of competition in show jumping, eventing and dressage, as well as combined driving, vaulting, hunter and competitive trail riding. The entire gold medal-winning French teams in show jumping at the 2002 World Equestrian Games and eventing at the 2004 Summer Olympics were mounted on Selle Français.
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