The rural calendar in this part of Northwestern France includes various reliable markers. The swallows arrive back from Africa early in the afternoon of the 2nd or 3rd of May. In June t\
he sun comes out and, because it has been raining since 1863, everyone is happy except the farmers, who begin to fret that the watertable hasn't been replenished. Then it rains again, \
firstly on the hay as it lays in the fields, then it really pours for the week leading up to the Argentan ride. This is so the organisers can spend five days panicking, working out alte\
rnative routes to avoid the worst of the mud, some of which has also been there since 1863, and thinking about cancelling. The day of the ride itself is then always sweltering.
This year only the swallows and the farmers kept their side of the deal. You can always rely on a farmer to moan. Round here they're driving A class Mercedes, and when they cross a fiel\
d to bring in some cows they wear more bling than Snoop Doggy Dogg, but they're still all doom and gloom. Maybe the girl didn't turn up to polish their Krugerrands; I don't know.
Anyway, the weather confounded all expectations by baking the ground hard for a month then changing to overcast and uncomfortably muggy for the morning of the ride; the sort of day when\
you wish it would get on with it and rain.
This time last year teamnellie was there to compete, Richard riding a horse from Brittany who was having his first attempt over the distance and on whom heewed with the horsehen you're \
riding you see things in terms of mud or overhanging branches, flat sections to put on speed, hills to climb up or run down. If you're racing around in a car trying to get to a crew poi\
nt, your day is bends negotiated, traffic lights cursed at. You might get a fleeting glimpse of a big house, an old church, some kind of plaque, a monument. You have no idea, really, of\
where you are.
This ride starts and finishes at the local racetrack, as do many major rides in France, and the first section of 27km uses old farm and forestry tracks in a series of long, straight and\
fairly flat runs to the first vet gate, at the Haras du Pin.
In 1714 King Louis XIVth's 'first horseman', one Franapproved' stallions. On the eve of the French Revolution, the Stud accounted for 196 stallions and 132 "approved horses". After a pe\
riod of uncertainty, the State-run stud institution and the associated stallion farms were reinstated by Imperial Decree - the gold-plated bees that are worked into the wrought iron mai\
n gates are one of the symbols of Napoleon I.