Saddle up for Club Med with a difference

Rosie Millard learnt more than a new vocabulary when she trotted deep into the French countryside

It would have helped if my French had been a bit better. And not in A-level terms, either. Being able to compose a 500-word essay on the delights of the Maisons de la Culture or the intricacies of the Nouvelle Vague wasn't going to help. What I needed was a GCSE in French equestrianism. The only hope was guesswork: "trot enleve" (the second T is silent, as in de trop), and "trot assis" - simple enough. But how about "se redresser"? or "fixer le bas de jambe"? (press with your calves, if you're interested). It was a phrase which, for seven days on the trot (ha ha), was to became my personal mantra.

Riding isn't what first comes to mind when considering a Club Med holiday. A hedonistic mix of sun, water sports and French food, say its fans; an upmarket Butlins, say the cynics. But Club Med, invented by a chap called Gerard Blitz in 1950 as the first "all-inclusive" holiday, aims to cover all sports, not just the sun, sea and surf triumvirate. So for me, a person for whom successful wind-surfing is probably somewhat of an oxymoron, what better idea than to brush up on my riding lessons, while having a holiday in France at the same time?

Not that I was ever much good at riding; I grew up in the middle of London, and my childhood was singularly undistinguished by gymkhanas, rosettes, Pony Club and the like. But since then I had done a bit, and thought this to be the perfect way to improve. "She's going to learn show-jumping," my husband said, shrugging his shoulders incredulously, to astonished friends. "I'm going along with her. I'll spend seven days there playing tennis and just not think about what happened to poor Christopher Reeve."

Club Med's Centre d'Equitation is at Pompadour, a tiny village near Limoges. There's golf, a swimming pool and indoor tennis courts, but the real point of the place is the riding. There are two yards - one full of horses, one full of ponies - two indoor rings, and five outdoor arenas. Apart from children's lessons, there are essentially two classes: advanced and intermediate. You probably could get along as an absolute beginner, but it's advisable to be able to ride a bit - to have a basic idea how to walk, trot and canter.

I signed up for the intermediate class and discovered that I could learn a whole range of equitational skills, including jumping, dressage, "trick riding" and, if I really felt like playing Prince Philip for a week, carriage-driving.

On day one, I appeared in the yard sporting my new jodhpurs and a back protector, which the chap at Lillywhites had said was mandatory for jumping. You don't have to wear one (in fact, no one else did), but it was great for making me feel confident. Club Med insists that hats and proper boots are worn, and will hire them out if necessary.

My instructor was a Breton beefcake named Jauffrey. "Ah!" say I, "Geoffrey? Un Anglais?" Jauffrey, who spoke no English at all, looked at me oddly and waved a gloved hand in the direction of the stables, where the rest the class were tacking up ready for the first lesson. Every day, we had an hour of dressage in the morning, and an hour of jumping in the afternoon - and it was enough.

Boy, was Jauffrey strict. If you fell off, if the horse refused, reared, bucked, kicked or bit another horse, (all of which happened at times to various members of the class), or if high-speed military planes came scudding overhead causing near pandemonium (ditto), that was your problem. Rather than its own Club Med staff, Pompadour employs professional riding teachers who have nothing to do with the things Club Med staff get up to (humorously- aimed custard pies, that sort of thing), but were focused instead on shaping up a load of hapless-looking holiday-makers into people who could sit decently on a nag.

Nothing deviated Jauffrey from his purpose. Make a mistake, and he'd make you do it again. With utter French disdain. "Galop!" he yelled at me on day two, at which point the key was not to forget that galop is the French for "canter", and start bombing round the ring (which is what I did). The horses were pretty disdainful, as well. You had to ride a different one each day, but all had the same attitude. Fail to fixer the jambe in precisely the right way for the demi-volte (semicircle), and the horse wasn't going to help you achieve it. But for me, only too familiar with riding schools where horses play follow-my-leader most of the time, it was a welcome change.

Once I had mastered the translation of Jauffrey's five or six key phrases on the hoof, my riding took off. I went over trotting poles, did complicated figures of eight, changed legs all the time (don't ask me how; I have no idea), cantered from a standing start and became essentially far more confident in one concentrated week than in a year of occasional Sunday jaunts. My riding technique was videoed by the fearsome Jauffrey and discussed in seminars next morning.

My husband, mollified by hours spent perfecting his serve, sauntered up to the school and looked pretty impressed by my achievements. After hosing my horse down at the end of each lesson we would wander back to the hotel for hot baths, excellent food and Club Med "spectacles" (basically quiz shows, interspersed with people turning up as fried eggs or impersonating Madonna, while doing astonishingly bad French slapstick and dreadful dance routines, which we found hilarious).

I had never really jumped properly before, but by the end of the week we were all clearing a proper course involving 3ft 6in spreads, and most of us were feeling pretty good about it. Apart from Erica from Switzerland, that is, who had the misfortune to fall off on a regular basis; and Christine, a tearful Parisian teenager, who had the misfortune to fall for Jauffrey.

Club Med's Pompadour village is 450km from Paris. Nearest stations: Uzerche, Brive and Limoges. Rosie Millard paid pounds 469 for a week's full- board Club Med holiday in June, and an extra pounds 125 for the six-day riding course. Club Med: 0171-225 1066.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices