Eric Navet’s Journey to the Top of the
By Sophie St.Clair
During the early 1990s, world-class French horseman Eric Navet earned many titles and medals aboard his distinguished mount Quito de Baussy. The talented duo participated five times in the most prestigious events the equestrian world has to offer: the World Equestrian Games, the Olympic Games and the European Championships, earning an impressive six medals. But the history of their partnership — and how it came to be — is equally impressive.
Saving the Family Bloodline
By World War II, the Normandy area of France was already well recognized as a leader in equine breeding. But during the German occupation of France, German forces mandated an inspection of the best breeding mares France had to offer. Eric’s grandfather, his father Alain and their family stud farm were already very well respected for breeding in this area. They were no exception to this mandated rule. Alain was required to bring all of his mares to the checkpoint for inspection. The mares were evaluated for bloodline and conformation and if selected, moved on to another location where they were shipped to Germany.
After presenting his mares throughout the day, Alain saved his best and most prized mare for last. Knowing that she was going to be selected because of her incredible bloodline and conformation, he made a desperate decision. As he walked down the path lined with people waiting to give over their horses, he decided he wasn’t going to simply hand over the mare to the Germans. After the initial checkpoint he ultimately decided to tie her to a tree. If the Germans were going to take her they would have to come get her.
During the night Alain went to see if the mare had been taken. As luck would have it, the mare was still standing where he left her. Because she’d been presented at the first checkpoint it appeared as though Alain had presented all of his mares as required. This prized mare was Quito de Baussy’s great grandmother. Without the defiant act by Alain Navet, Quito de Baussy would never have been born. Fate brought together this pair that launched Eric into the top levels of this sport.
A Legacy of Horsemanship
Eric’s father, Alain, was a powerful force in Eric’s life, shaping his career as a horseman and show jumper almost from the start. Alain, also an international show jumper, was Eric’s only trainer. But after his junior years were complete, the technical aspects of the sport were progressing very quickly. The courses were more technical, fences were much lighter, and Alain didn’t feel he had the expertise to bring Eric to the new way of the sport.
Horsemanship is what Eric says his father instilled in him the most. “The most important thing he taught me was to be was a horseman, even more than to be a rider,” Eric said. “Today many people are pilots. I hate that word for a rider. But it’s true that many people are just pilots but not horsemen. It’s a shame — it’s a very important part of a rider’s education, horsemanship.”
Eric says that he was brought up learning to do everything, breaking young horses, feeding, shoeing, braiding and even castrating. There were so many horses to sell that they had to do it all, all of the time. “My father taught me everything because he wanted to be sure that I would be strong enough and committed enough to do this for a living,” Eric said. Eric paid attention.
His professional accolades include seven French National titles and selection for the French Olympic show jumping team in 1984, 1992 and 2004. With Quito de Baussy, Eric earned double Gold medals for individual and team in the 1990 World Equestrian Games in Stockholm, Sweden, a team Bronze medal at the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona, Spain, and was the European Champion in 1991. He earned a team Bronze medal in 1993 at the European Championships and in 1994 he received a team Silver medal at the World Equestrian Games in The Hague, Netherlands. In 1998 he won a team Silver medal at the World Equestrian Games in Rome, Italy, with his mount Atout d’Isigny and in 2002 he earned team Gold and individual Silver medals at the World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain, with Dollar du Murier. These are just a few in a long list of successes recorded against his name.
A Horse Trainer
Eric really prefers to think of himself as a horse trainer rather than a people trainer. He acknowledges that while he has helped a few people along the way, he really feels that he has trained their horses to a greater level of success. It’s the work with the horses that continues to motivate him year after year and he says that he’s still learning every day.
For young riders who have limited funds and are working their way up the fences, he encourages them to put in the time training a horse. Eric is a strong believer in flatwork, even more so than jumping. So much can be learned and understood from the flatwork and it prevents tiring out the horses on jumping. With some riders, an average level of horse will do well at low and medium levels and with other riders the same horse will improve to be able to do the higher levels.
“Most of the horses that I rode at the high level were horses that no one thought, even me, would be able to reach that higher level,” he said. “They were not bought for crazy prices but you have to be very patient for that and give the chance to an average level of horse to improve.” Given the right program, the right experience and the right training, an average horse has the potential to succeed. Eric said, “It happens very often that you’re surprised about what the horse is able to do that you would never have expected. Give them a chance. If you are patient, the horse will give it back to you.”
Patience is a key factor he points to in the success of his career. He encourages young riders to be patient with their horses. Riders must acknowledge that horses are not machines. Sometimes they just don’t understand what the rider is asking of them. This can lead to frustration for the rider, but he says, “Most of the time it’s because they are confused and we did not explain clearly enough. Find another way to communicate. Don’t fight.”
Living in California
Today, Eric lives in Encinitas, California. The extraordinary show jumper has come to California to work with young Grand Prix rider Karl Cook and his string of winning horses. Eric and Karl met through a mutual friend and former client, Ali Nilforushian. Eric had trained Ali and his horses during Ali’s successful run up to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Three years ago Karl came to Eric’s farm in Normandy with three horses. He spent a couple of months over the summer working with Eric. Following that summer, Eric traveled often from France to the United States working with Karl wherever he was competing. Eventually this constant travel became too difficult for Eric and his family. He and his wife Ursula made the decision to move with their two teenage daughters to California in August 2013.
Eric’s near-term goals are clear. “I have one goal. My goal is to help Karl improve and to meet the highest level. I am very motivated for that and I am convinced we can get it.” He says he doesn’t know how long that will take and doesn’t want to know. This can create impatience and cause mistakes. So they continue step by step. Eric describes Karl as very committed to this work and said, “Karl is improving a lot; he goes on improving and he has more to improve. We are a good combination. We both work on the horses and Karl’s riding but we don’t have a short-term goal, which is very important for me.” Eric’s philosophy: Take your time and things will happen.