Equitation in the French tradition inscribed on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list

In 2011, UNESCO inscribed French traditional equitation as intangible cultural heritage. The notion of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) was formalised by an international convention in 2003, which France ratified in 2006. UNESCO defines ICH as a set of living practices worth transmitting from one generation to the next. UNESCO considers that equitation in the French tradition meets this definition.

French traditional equitation is a school of horseback riding that emphasizes harmonious relations between humans and horses. The fundamental horse-training principles and processes are guided by non-violence and lack of constraint, blending human demands with respect for the horse’s body and mood. Knowledge of the animal itself (physiology, psychology, anatomy) and human nature (emotions and the body) are complemented by a state of mind that combines skill and respect for the horse. Fluidity of movements and flexibility of joints ensure that the horse participates in the exercises without coercion. Although practised throughout France and elsewhere, the most widely known community is the Cadre Noir of Saumur, based at the National School of Equitation (French Equitation and Horse Institute). The common denominator among riders is the desire to establish close relations with the horse, build mutual respect and work towards achieving "lightness". Cooperation between generations is strong, with respect for the experience of older riders galvanized by the enthusiasm of younger riders. The Saumur region is also home to instructors, horse breeders, craftspeople (saddlers, boot-makers), veterinary services and blacksmiths. Frequent public displays and galas hosted by the Cadre Noir of Saumur help to sustain the visibility of equitation in the French tradition.


Safeguarding plan

The National School of Equitation's (ENE – Ecole Nationale d'Équitation) plan to safeguard equitation in the French tradition is based on three lines:

  • educational symposia and demonstrations geared towards teachers and professionals to enable an exchange of knowledge and experience; international training course for foreign instructors at Saumur offered to candidates interested in deepening their knowledge in this area; invitation to foreign equestrian figures to chair galas, thus demonstrating their commitment to the values of equitation in the French tradition.
  • easy access to an extensive library of documents: the strengthening of the ENE’s documentation centre which houses old books, unpublished works, invaluable documents, videos and photographic archives constitute a powerful means of safeguarding and disseminating knowledge that is useful for riders. The digitisation of books and their free publication on the ENE website will provide easy, worldwide access to documents that may be difficult to find or very rare.
  • raising awareness as early as elementary training in clubs : owing to the participation of the French Equestrian Federation, amateur riders and children in France will be drawn to the tradition by the introduction of a specific chapter in future editions of preparatory books for federal exams, highlighting specific characteristics of equitation in the French tradition, particularly the total lack of violence or restraint and the virtues of a respectful and ambitious school of life.