Jappeloup: The Legendary Horse With a Funny Name Will Jump Again (In the Movies)

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This will probably be the best film you'll never see.

The French are getting in the spirit of the Olympics by making a feature film about Jappeloup de Luze, the amazing against-all-odds showjumper who won a spectacular gold medal for France at the 1988 Olympic Games in South Korea. Jappeloup was ridden by Pierre Durand; the USA's Greg Best and the wonderful Gem Twist had to settle for the silver.

The film will star?Guillaume Canet as Pierre Durand; Canet also wrote the script. Apparently Canet was a top-level junior show jumper in France in his youth, so the role may fit him quite well. Veteran actor Daniel Auteuil will co-star as Durand's father.

And since the film will be in French, it's not likely to ever make it to the USA, even with subtitles. (But, let's hope!)

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The French must have gone through a painstaking process to find horses that could play Jappeloup, who was not a big horse at all. Think about it: how do you find a little horse who can do the impossible? Nonetheless, the producers report that three horses have been retained to play the part of Jappeloup.

Jappeloup, who was a gelding, came from an amazing background: he was allegedly a cross. He was the product of a French Trotter sire; his dam was a Thoroughbred. Durand initially refused to ride the horse because he was so small.

Until Seoul, Jappeloup's claim to fame had been tossing Durand off in the arena at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Bridleless, he galloped back to his stable while Durand had to dust himself off and leave the Olympic arena on foot. That's not supposed to happen in the Olympics and would certainly be a bruise on the pride of a French horseman.

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Here's Jappeloup's finest hour: the final round of the 1988 Olympic show jumping contest in Seoul, South Korea.

When Jappeloup and Durand won at Seoul, Durand accepted the precious gold medal on the podium and then did the most amazing thing: he tied it onto Jappeloup's martingale for the victory lap, with the gold medal slapping against the horse's broad chest in the sun.

Jappeloup's retirement ceremony was held at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which gives you some idea of the esteem in which this horse was held in France. Retirement didn't suit Jappeloup, though: he died three months later of a heart attack.

I always figured that Jappeloup was French for jack rabbit. And the?name would fit: Jappeloup was under 15 hands. But it could mean most anything! It's not in the LaRousse dictionary, anyway.

According to Durand's web site, the film begins shooting next month in France and Germany. The Screen Daily blog, however, reports that filming will be primarily on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Local news sources concur.

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If you have been to the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, you might have seen a sculpture of a horse on the expansive sloping lawn above the lake. That was no ordinary horse, that was Jappeloup. The sculpture was on loan for many years and now has returned to Mr. Durand.

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Legends can be funny; sometimes it takes a while for heroes to come to light and earn their proper place in history. We're about to experience that in the USA with the imminent release of the biography Snowman, The Eighty Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts, which I hope will be a big success. It's the story of yet another unlikely superstar of the showjumping world, and of the man who believed that a plowhorse could jump the moon. Watch for it in bookstores this week!

They say that timing is everything, but there's no wrong time to be inspired by a great horse. Jappeloup's story has been a long time coming--here's hoping for subtitles!