Chantilly_balade en henson©CRTC Hauts-de-France_Florent CocquetChantilly, balade en henson
©Chantilly, balade en henson dans le Parc du château|Hauts-de-France Tourisme - Florent Cocquet

Horse trekking in Chantilly

Chantilly is known for being the capital of the horse. A horseback tour is tempting and possible!

Don’t worry if you’ve never ridden before: the Henson horse, originating from the Bay of Somme, is a very calm and reliable breed. You’ll feel like a prince on your mount.

Northern France _ Bay of Somme _ Saint-Firmin _ Le Crotoy _ Henson _ horse © CRTC Hauts-de-France - Stéphane BOUILLANDNorthern France _ Bay of Somme _ Saint-Firmin _ Le Crotoy _ Henson _ horse © CRTC Hauts-de-France - Stéphane BOUILLAND
©Northern France, Bay of Somme, Saint-Firmin, Le Crotoy, Henson, horse |CRTC Hauts-de-France -Stéphane Bouilland

The Henson, a docile horse ideal for gentle treks in Chantilly

Upon arriving in Chantilly, one of the first things to surely catch your eye will be the isabelline coats of the small horses grazing in front of the Pavillon de Manse, by the river Nonette. Those are Hensons, the newest French breed that was created in the 1980s from Norwegian Fjord horses.

They are deeply rooted in the region of the Bay of Somme, where they were first bred to roam freely across the beaches of Marquenterre. They are so good at what they do that the Henson has now made its home in France’s horseracing capital!

There is an entire philosophy surrounding the Henson, which respects the animal as a living creature. You won’t ever see them lined up in a parade ready to be mounted. “We take the halters and saddles and meet them out in the field”, explains Pauline, the riding instructor. “This is a good way to initiate the first contact and is reassuring for anyone who has never ridden before. They can even hug the horses, who are well accustomed to such intimacy.”

Varese, Lazur, Apple, Bahia and the others are all as cool as a cucumber. “These horses are never shut away,” adds Pauline. “They always live outside, I trained them five years ago when they were in the bay of Somme, and they adapted perfectly to Chantilly.” Once saddled, she puts on the Henson hack, a bit-free bridle that was especially designed for the breed to neither hurt nor restrict them.

Horse around Chantilly, the equestrian capital

The trek begins as we leave the Pavillon de Manse, whose hydraulic machinery powered the magnificent water features at the Chantilly estate. We follow the small canals and ponds that surround the Château, along paths only open to pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders. Then we pass through the streets of Chantilly’s old town, feeling like a prince as we tower over the poor pedestrians on our high horse.

In reality, the Henson isn’t that tall (just under 5ft at the withers), making it rather easier to get on and off. As you approach the racetrack, you might well encounter other horses. Your noble steed will simply continue on its way unperturbed. The city centre and the cobbled streets will not faze it either, ensuring you arrive safe and sound at the Great Stables of the Museum of the Horse.

We pass by the museum’s impressive building, built between 1719 and 1749, and tack across the grass towards the château. This is where you’ll truly feel like royalty as you’ll be the only ones trotting down the park’s paths on horseback. Despite its rural upbringing, the Henson also feel right at home cantering amongst the pristine French gardens that were the favourite of royal gardener André Le Nôtre. We amble through the Anglo-Chinese garden until we reach one of the estate’s best-guarded secrets, the kangaroos!

Turning back, we saunter past Sylvie’s House, the nymph of the lush 8,000-hectare forest that’s so close you can smell it. On the return leg, more experienced riders can enjoy a gallop on the famous Piste des Lions, the racehorse training track. If you’re an epicurean, make sure you book the ‘Gourmet’ package, which includes a stop off in Le Hameau restaurant for some authentic and homemade Chantilly cream… yum! As for our Henson, they’ll delight in a mouthful of fresh grass once back in the field.

An ambassador for the equestrian capital, your steed will have given you a better tour than any two-legged guide ever could have…

Continue the fun with a tour around the Chantilly canals

Discover Chantilly’s industrial heritage as you enjoy a mile-long walk along the river Nonette: the jardins familiaux, Guilleminot factories, jardin des Eaux minérales, Watermaël-Boitsfort park, Grand Canal & Saint Jean canal, Manse canal, Saint Peter’s church, pavillon de Manse and the Porcelain factory.

For experienced horse riders:

The ancient forest of Halatte is located on the outskirts of Chantilly. The trek takes 3 hr 30 mins and includes the Gallo-Roman temple of Orgnon, the château’s ruins and the Museum of Graffiti in Verneuil-en-Halatte

Or the Route d’Artagnan. A European horse trail that runs through Hauts-de-France between Lille and Chantilly.

A two-day trek between Soissons and Reims, at the entrance to the Champagne region. Explore a region whose strategic position has played a key part throughout history: châteaux, wash houses, fountains and much more…

Local's tip

Sarah Gillois ChantillySarah Gillois Chantilly
©Sarah Gillois Chantilly
A golden-ticket chocolatier in Chantilly


Indulge yourself with a short visit to 45 rue du Connétable, where you’ll find La Passion du Chocolat. I cannot recommend this chocolatier and patisserie highly enough. Brice Connesson sells an exquisite range of traditional local chocolate: not just the classic « Crottin », but also the « Dentelle de Chantilly » and the « Diamont rose ». They’re heavenly!

Sarah, Tourist Office Advisor, Expert in heritage and nature visits in Chantilly

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