Make a trip to Saut Hermès, the annual show jumping competition at the Grand Palais in Paris

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Hermès celebrates its equestrian heritage by bringing back the horse to Paris at the annual Saut Hermès show jumping competition

Over a chilly weekend in March, as Paris was awash with ‘yellow vest’ protestors and preparing for the visit of Chinese premier Xi Jinping, another momentous event had taken over Grand Palais and the city itself: Saut Hermès, an annual show jumping competition that sees the best in class compete for top prize. Organised by French maison Hermès, the competition takes place in the historic building of Grand Palais, which formerly hosted equestrian shows until 1957. It was only in 2010 that horses were brought back to the building, thanks to Hermès.

A spokesperson from Hermès explains: “The key idea of this event was to reintroduce the horse inside Paris and inside this historical monument. It had been built first for the Exposition Universelle (Universal Exhibition) of 1900, but also built to host equestrian horse shows.

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Hermès was born in 1837 as a harness maker and then saddle maker, and for almost a century, the horse was the only client of Hermès

“The basement of Grand Palais had barns that we cannot use anymore because of security reasons (the basement now houses a huge police station to protect the artworks exhibited at Grand Palais).

“From 1901 to 1957, there were frequent horse shows where Hermès was present with its saddle stores. Grand Palais is actually a metaphor of what happened to the horse because Hermès was born in 1837 as a harness maker and then saddle maker, and for almost a century, the horse was the only client of Hermès.

“Progressively, cars replaced horses in the streets of Paris, and in Grand Palais, horse shows stopped in 1957 and were replaced by car exhibitions. The idea was to give back Grand Palais to the horse and also reintroduce the horse inside Paris.”

Over three days, Saut Hermès saw a host of international riders and horses tackle the obstacle courses to emerge victorious. This being Hermès, of course, the obstacle course was filled with whimsical details, such as oxers that were bookended by chess pieces or horses themselves.

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The horses leap 1.6m in the air and are competing for €400,000 (S$610,120)

It was a colourful event, with this year’s theme seeing the striped rail between oxers as the main motif for the collaterals. Apart from the action on course, there was plenty to keep families busy, from photo booths to virtual reality headsets that transported guests on a magical ride atop a Pegasus to the skies and back.

Saut Hermès is certainly not all play and games though – for the riders, the stakes are high. The horses leap 1.6m in the air and are competing for the €400,000 (S$610,120) prize money as well the prestige of winning this five-star tournament. And the course is not easy.

The spokesperson continues, “normally, horse shows are indoors or outdoors, but here it’s neither in nor out because you’re inside, and you see the sky. You also have some unique shadows on the ground because of the clouds and so on. So for the riders, the moving shadows present a specific challenge for the riders as they can scare the horses.”

While the rider has utmost control of the horse, it’s not an inanimate object like in other sports such as football or tennis – the animal has whims and fancies, as evinced by a rider who pulled out suddenly because his horse stopped midway. The horse’s reticence was almost imperceptible to the audience, but the rider instinctively sensed that it would not go on. The audience’s sympathy was almost palpable as the disappointment was etched in the rider’s face. Such is the nature of show jumping; it’s emotive and you can’t help but feel a special connection to the competitors.

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The maison’s historic address at Rue Faubourg houses a saddle workshop and its team continues to push the boundaries of saddle making

Free Rein

For Hermès, the horse is not just a symbol from its past. The maison remains firmly committed to – and passionate about – its equestrian links. Its historic address at Rue Faubourg houses a saddle workshop and its team continues to push the boundaries of saddle making for various equestrian disciplines.

Saddles are all made to measure not just according to the rider’s preferences, but the team also travels to barns around the world to measure the horse and create a bespoke, ergonomic saddle that suits the comfort of both animal and rider.

Interestingly, Hermès also enlists the help of its partner riders to gather feedback on all its new equestrian products, from clothes to saddles. Jérôme Guerry, top show jumper and a Hermès partner rider, enthuses that the team at Hermès shares his passion for horses and this is what makes the partnership so enjoyable.

His saddle of choice is Hermès Cavale, which he had discovered and fallen in love with even before being invited to join the family.

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For Hermès, its equestrian department is a crucial element of the maison’s identity

“I love the Cavale because there is only the leather and no stitching so it is very comfortable. It’s quite hollow too and allows me to sit firmly in place. I have the tendency to move to the front or back and every time I do that, it brings me back to my place. It’s very important to feel a sense of equilibrium when you’re on the horse.”

Guerry was enlisted by Hermès to give feedback on the development of Cavale II, an evolution of the current iteration. Interestingly, it came to be as Laurent Goblet, artisan and saddle maker, was working on another saddle for a dressage rider. He’s been in the profession for over 40 years, a rider himself, but she caused him to see the saddle in a different manner and that influenced him to take some of the elements used for her equipment and implement them in the other collections.

The ultimate aim is to truly bring the horse and the rider closer together. Guerry reiterates: “The saddle is always evolving and it takes years of experience and partnerships with riders like me. It’s never fixed.”

For Hermès, its equestrian department might not be its top earner, especially in comparison to its leather accessories or ready-to-wear, but it is a crucial element of the maison’s identity, kept alive by the passion the team has for horses and the metier itself, and manifested through events such as Saut Hermès and its dedication to continuously improve its offerings.