The Franches-Montagnes breed is remarkably homogeneous thanks to the patient work of its breeders. For many generations, in Switzerland they have been concerned with preserving the original qualities of their horse. But at the same time, trying to erase, gradually, its failures to reach the horse Franches-Montagnes.
The origin of the breed
The origin of the Franches-Montagnes or Freiberger took place on the high plateau called Freiberg, located in the northwest corner of Switzerland, in the province of Jura. Undoubtedly, at the end of the fourteenth century the primitive horse of this region could only belong to a fairly light type of line, given the rugged terrain.
On the plateau, water is scarce, the soil is not very fertile and winters are long. The settlers who agreed to go there were granted tax freedom: hence the name that is translated as “Free Mountains.” Undoubtedly, their horses were vital companions: they loaded wood, plowed the fields and in winter they helped clear the few snow roads.
Another document, dating from 1619, relates a discussion in the Episcopal Court of Basel, in which the Franches-Montagnes horse is described as a Beautiful, robust and resistant animal. He also commented that, unfortunately, he had a heavy head and a tendency to suffer from diseases such as blindness.
The improvement of the Franches-Montagnes horse
In the 18th century, Swiss horse breeding flourished. At this time the export of the Swiss horse was important, mainly to France. In addition, many European armies were organized according to the French model, which favored cavalry.
In this sense, at the end of this century, a certain breeding organization is established in Switzerland in the Franches-Montagnes horse region, under the supervision of the Bishops-Princes that foster quality breeding.
This fact marked that horse breeding was more developed there than in adjacent districts where cattle were used more for agricultural work on farms.
The modern breeding of the Franches-Montagnes horse
In the 19th century, Swiss livestock collapsed. In the Franches-Montagnes region, livestock was destroyed after the French Revolution. It should be noted that France ruled in the Jura district, between 1792 and 1814. In these years, the region was depressed to strengthen the French struggle against the Austrians.
From 1815, Jura belongs again to the canton of Bern, and horses were imported, in an attempt to promote breeding and improve the quality of horses. Cantonal authorities take control of the use of stallions.
There is a record that efforts were made at this time to improve the Jura horse, considered too small. In that reason, they crossed with stallions of Franches-Montagnes, Comtois and stallions of Freiburg, to obtain a true draft horse.
At the beginning of the 19th century, with the progressive development of the railroads, the key role of the horse in transport diminished. As a consequence, production declined and race quality.
During the second half of the 19th century, one hundred Anglo-Norman stallions were imported to Switzerland. The objective was to avoid inbreeding and produce a horse suitable for agriculture, the army and transport. Thus, heavy and lighter horses coexisted. This made Franches-Montagnes the official horse of Switzerland, which is considered the only light horse in Europe.
The Franches-Montagnes horse and national identity
The history of Franches-Montagnes has always been very close in the past and in the present with a famous event throughout Switzerland: the traditional spectacle of the Marché-Concours. This festival has been held since 1897 in the town of Saignelégier, Franches-Montagnes district of the Swiss canton of Jura. Currently, it takes place during the second weekend of August.
The Marché-Concours began as an agricultural exhibition for the promotion of local livestock. In those early years, horses were sold as working animals and for their meat. Thus, the Franches-Montagnes horses shared prominence with cows, goats and chickens.
As the world of the horse became important, the Marché-Concours changed its name and added the last name des Chevaux to his denomination. At present, equine specimens and the entire industry related to them monopolize this traditional event.