Small Farmer's Journal

or Subscribe
Cheval de Merens Revisited
Cheval de Merens Revisited

Merens mares in high mountain meadow.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

An Obsession Driven Odyssey

by Mickie Proulx of Valdez, AK

Dear SFJ,

In the Fall ’97 issue of SFJ you printed an article on the Cheval de Merens, the all black horse of the French Pyrenees. I was immediately obsessed by their beautiful stature, a very strong draft-type-looking horse with powerful legs and long flowing manes and tails. The article sent me running for maps to locate France and the Ariege Valley, the central location for the Merens. After making contact with the writer of the article and being told of the major Merens horse show in August, plane reservations were made. How exciting to go see hundreds of these beauties first hand. We went to France solely to see the horses but France ended up being a great place to vacation with ancient castles, cathedrals, underground rivers and prehistoric caves.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Castle at Foix.

Cheval de Merens means “horse of Merens.” Merens is a small village nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains and is the birthplace of the breed. To get to the Pyrenees Mountains you fly to Paris, there you can either drive south twelve hours or take a commuter plane to the city of Toulouse. In Toulouse you can rent a car and in an hour or so you’re in the mountains. The Pyrenees Mountains lie along the border of Spain, extending 270 miles and reaching 11,200 feet in height. It’s a beautiful area with many high meadows where most Merens are left to somewhat survive on their own.

The horse show is held every August and runs for seven days. The best mares with foals, one, two and three year olds are brought down from the mountains to compete. During the week the show is held in a different village daily. The best four or five horses in each class are selected to go to the three days of final showing in picturesque Boulan. What a way to see France!

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Oxen downtown Foix.

Much emphasis is put on the mare and foal classes, where they are shown and judged as a pair. There are classes for best one-, two- and three-year-old fillies and colts, and classes for three year olds under saddle where the rider is not judged at all. The colts vie for points towards their “authorization.” Many strict exams must be passed before they can be recognized as a stud. It was refreshing to see the horses being judged without all the sterling silver and flashing American fashions that seem to take over the show rings in the U.S.A.

The weekend was exciting with trick riders, acrobatics, racing, driving, and a most impressive demonstration of the sure-footed Merens being ridden down steep, rocky embankments into the show grounds. A hearty group of Italians rode their Merens from Italy, over the Alps (about 500 miles), to join in the festivities. They were celebrating their country’s 20th anniversary of Merens ownership.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Trailride in the Pyrenees.

The show ground vendors offered great French cuisine, breads, wines, souvenirs and leather goods. To top off the Sunday show a baby Merens was raffled off.

We noticed the French to be very kind and hospitable. There are 5-Star Bed & Breakfast’s available in the Ariege. Soffie’s B&B, located right in Merens, has a view of the world. Ivan Quinquis’ B&B, in the village of Biert, offers trail rides where you can ride a Merens into the mountains.

The highlight of our trip was visiting “Helene’s Happy Horse Farm.” Owned and operated by Kevin Henshall & Helene Sapy. Their sprawling old French-style farm is in the farming village of Lafajole and surrounded by huge fields of sunflowers. Kevin took the time to introduce us to all fifty of his Merens horses, including his four stallions. They all had personalities! And gorgeous! We were able to watch Kevin work with his horses and ready his stallion, Galurin, for the show (he took Champion).

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Hiking in the Pyrenees, looking for mares.

We discovered that Helene and Kevin have the reputation of being the top breeders of Merens. They were very patient with our inability to speak any French (they speak English). We inquired as to which horses were available for purchase and we had it narrowed down to a half dozen that we thought we should bring home with us. The prices of the horses are reasonable but the cost of airfare and quarantine … well, we had to leave them with Kevin for now.

There is only one Merens mare in the United States belonging to a lady in Oregon. How unfortunate for us Americans. Maybe someday we’ll be blessed with them here in the states.

Ahh … meanwhile, I’ll continue to dream of those versatile black mountain horses high in the Pyrenees.

Voila‘! Extraordinaire!!
Mickie Proulx
Valdez, AK

Cheval de Merens Revisited

or Subscribe to read the rest of this article. is a live, ever-changing subscription website. To gain access to all the content on this site, subscribe for just $5 per month. If you are not completely satisfied, cancel at any time. Here at your own convenience you can access past articles from Small Farmer's Journal's first forty years and all of the brand new content of new issues. You will also find posts of complete equipment manuals, a wide assortment of valuable ads, a vibrant events calendar, and up to the minute small farm news bulletins. The site features weather forecasts for your own area, moon phase calendaring for farm decisions, recipes, and loads of miscellaneous information.

Spotlight On: Book Reviews

Build Your Own Earth Oven

An Introduction To Cob

Mixed with sand, water, and straw, a clayey-subsoil will dry into a very hard and durable material; indeed, it was the first, natural “concrete”. In the Americas, we call it “adobe”, which is originally from the Arabic “al-toba”, meaning “the brick.” Invading Moors brought the word to Spain from North Africa, where an ancient mud building tradition continues today.

Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees

Storey’s Guide To Keeping Honey Bees

It is well known that the value of pollination and its resultant seed set and fruit formation outweigh any provided by honey bee products like honey and beeswax.

Making Buttermilk

The Small-Scale Dairy

What kind of milk animal would best suit your needs? For barnyard matchmaking to be a success, you need to address several concerns.

Old Man Farming

Old Man Farming

Long after his physical capacities have dwindled to pain and stiffening, what drives the solitary old man to continue bringing in the handful of Guernsey cows to milk?

One Seed To Another: The New Small Farming

One Seed to Another

One Seed to Another is staggering and bracing in its truths and relevance. This is straight talk from a man whose every breath is poetry and whose heartbeat is directly plugged into farming as right livelihood.

McCormick Deering/International No 7 vs no 9

McCormick Deering/International: No. 7 versus No. 9

McCormick Deering/International’s first enclosed gear model was the No. 7, an extremely successful and highly popular mower of excellent design.

Book Review Butchering

Two New Butchering Volumes

Danforth’s BUTCHERING is an unqualified MASTERPIECE! One which actually gives me hope for the furtherance of human kind and the ripening of good farming everywhere because, in no small part, of this young author’s sensitive comprehension of the modern disconnect with food, feeding ourselves, and farming.

"Work Horse Handbook, 2nd Edition" by Lynn Miller

Draft Collars and How To Size Them

It is difficult to accurately measure a horse’s neck without fitting. In other words, there are so many variables involved in the shape and size of a horse’s neck that the only accurate and easy way to size the neck is to use several collars and put them on one at a time until fitting is found.

How To Dry Up A Doe Goat

How To Dry Up A Doe Goat

You are probably thinking why would I want to dry up a doe? If the plan is to rebreed the doe, then she will need time to rebuild her stamina. Milk production takes energy. Kid production takes energy, too. If the plan is to have a fresh goat in March, then toward the end of October start to dry her up. The first thing to do is cut back on her grain. Grain fuels milk production.

How To Prune a Formal Hedge

How To Prune A Formal Hedge

This guide to hedge-trimming comes from The Pruning Answer Book by Lewis Hill and Penelope O’Sullivan. Q: What’s the correct way to shear a formal hedge? A: The amount of shearing depends upon the specific plant and whether the hedge is formal or informal. You’ll need to trim an informal hedge only once or twice a year, although more vigorous growers, such as privet and ninebark, may need additional clippings.

Chicken Guano: Top-Notch Fertilizer

Whoever thought I’d be singing the praises of chicken poop? I am, and I’m not the only one. Chickens are walking nitrogen-rich manure bins.

Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows

Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows

From humor-filled stories of a life of farming to incisive examinations of food safety, from magical moments of the re-enchantment of agriculture to the benches we would use for the sharpening of our tools, Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows offers a full meal of thought and reflection.

Honoring Our Teachers

Honoring Our Teachers

from issue:

I believe that there exist many great practicing teachers, some of who deliberately set out to become one and others who may have never graduated from college but are none-the-less excellent and capable teachers. I would hazard a guess that many readers of Small Farmer’s Journal know more than one teacher who falls within this latter category. My grandfather, and artist and author Eric Sloane, were two such teachers.

Work Horse Handbook

Work Horse Handbook

Horses are honest creatures. And, what I mean by honest is that a horse is almost always true to his motivations, his needs, his perceptions: if he wants to eat, if he needs water, if he perceives danger. He is incapable of temporarily setting aside or subverting his motivations to get to some distant goal. This is often mistaken as evidence for a lack of intelligence, a conclusion which says more of human nature than equine smarts. What it means for the horse is that he is almost never lazy, sneaky or deceptive. It is simply not in his nature.

Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing

Setting Up A Walking Plow

Here is a peek into the pages of Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing, written by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller.


Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

Barbed Wire History and Varieties

Book Excerpt: The invention of barb wire was the most important event in the solution of the fence problem. The question of providing fencing material had become serious, even in the timbered portions of the country, while the great prairie region was almost wholly without resource, save the slow and expensive process of hedging. At this juncture came barb wire, which was at once seen to make a cheap, effective, and durable fence, rapidly built and easily moved.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

Journal Guide