© Team Laiterie Montaigu © Team Laiterie Montaigu

Dreams beyond reach

Julien Gonin is set to grace the “most beautiful indoor arena in the world”, as he describes it, for the fourth time. He first visited the event nearly 30 years ago, in the company of his mentor Michel Robert. “I had stars in my eyes. I never imagined I’d be able to ride here one day.”

Gonin © CHIG / Bertilleprod

The 41-year-old Frenchman knows a thing or two about unattainable dreams. But now, after a lot of hard work and determination, he finally has the chance to live them out. “It wasn’t even a dream. It was just unimaginable, out of reach,” he smiles. “I’ve always been a bit too much of a realist, I guess.”

Gonin has come a long, long way, it has to be said. Though fascinated with horses from an early age, his parents were never members of the equestrian fraternity. “There was a riding school on the other side of the main road, and when I was five or six I got this pedal tractor, which I’d escape over the road in to go to the school,” he recalls with a smile on his face. “My parents were scared to death.”

Gonin took up riding when he was around ten, and during his teenage years he spent every weekend and school holiday helping out Michel Robert at his stables. “Michel and Dominique became a second family for me,” he recalls. “I was with them virtually the whole time between the age of 12 and 24. I went everywhere with them and I grew up with and thanks to them.”

The smiling Frenchman is steeped in the ways and means of the multi-medal winning Robert, as becomes obvious when you see him in the saddle. In the ten years he spent with his mentor, the Ain-based rider rode six horses a day – three in the morning before classes and three more at the end of the day – and did his apprenticeship as an instructor. In 2004, Gonin decided it was time to go it alone, setting up his own business on a shoestring budget. Nearly 20 years on, he now employs six full-time staff.

Going it alone

The French rider is very much his own man. “I own nearly all my competition horses,” he explains. “I’ve never wanted to be dependent on an owner. While I often have to sell my good horses to make a living, I’m lucky enough to have a balance and good friends to support me.” They include the Godard family, who have entrusted nine horses to him, as well as Fabrice, Jérôme and Daniel – all witnesses at his wedding – who are co-owners at Valou du Lys. It is a system that differs somewhat to that of most professional riders, who rely a lot on the support of their owner(s) to stay competitive. “Obviously, I dream of riding at Aachen one day, but my main objective is to stay independent and build a profitable system around my own horses. The ultimate goal would be one day to refuse to sell my good horses so I can carry on riding at a high level.”

Striking a balance is no easy task. Before becoming a doting father to three-and-a-half-year-old Victor, Gonin devoted a lot of time to coaching. These days, lacking both the time and the inclination, he prefers to invest his energy in his thriving business and family. With 80 horses at stable, plus hay and straw production, he has plenty to keep him occupied. “If things don’t work out with the horses, I can always move into agriculture,” he laughs.

Aurore Favre

gonin Julien Gonin with Folie du Clos in the Prix Radio Lac on Thursday morning. - © CHIG / Soraya Exquis

Off Topic

Favourite swearword?

“Gottvertami nomal!”, he says in Swiss-German dialect, laughing.

Your idea of happiness?

Pleasing myself, doing what I like and not doing what I don’t like.

Favourite smell?

The smell of earth when it starts raining.

Favourite series?

“Plus belle la vie” (a French soap opera). If it was on and someone invited me round to theirs, I’d only go if they let me watch it (laughs).

A place you’d love to visit?

Machu Picchu. I’ve always loved history and Inca culture in particular. One day, I’ll go to Peru and see the Nazca Lines.

The character trait you most admire in others?


And the one you least admire?

Dishonesty, funnily enough! (laughs)

A horse you dream of riding?

None, really. What I love about horses is the relationship you build with them.

Fondue or raclette?

Fondue with cheese from Sterchi, the cheesemongers from Neuchâtel. Absolutely delicious.

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