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.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    ICE ICT: Lead Business Consultant

    £39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most