Jean-Francois Pignon’s free roaming horses




& silence 


Free roaming horses that perform as if they were led by invisible strings have become synonymous with Jean-Francois Pignon. For the past few years, the French horse whisperer has literally challenged himself by embracing a new, silent language.


By Camilla Alfthan


Horse music is the name of Jean-Francois Pignon’s latest show where his free roaming, white horses make you think about Camargue. However, only one of his horses come from the marchlands of Southern France where the animals still live in semi-liberty –  a  young newcomer who responds most easily to Pignon’s silent language.


“I named her after her mother, Gazelle, who was also my very first horse when I was 23 and who’m I took to many different countries. My other horses are Spanish and a year ago I added a stallion with the mares to have foals. Basically, I try to show people a part of nature – a stallion, mares and foals, and that is a little bit my goal now with my shows with the horses that roam freely,” tells the softly spoken Frenchman over a glass of wine before he’s going in the ring.


How did the idea come about to perform without any tack ?


In my life I was always more or less guided without having to step back and think. It all began one autumn after school when I did’nt have too much time to look after my mares, because the evening came fast. I wanted to play with them and didn’t have the time to brush them or put on a saddle. In fact, I learned to ride without a saddle because my father did not have the means to buy one.  At the same time I think he thought it was a good way to learn to improve your balance. Afterwards, I found myself working with the horses in the same way.


How do you communicate ?


I the beginning I fell in the trap using words that my father was using, certain words that indicated what the horses had to do. Then I began to observe them and I realized that they don’t communicate like that. Whenever you see a herd move it happens silently. How does the leader tell them, now we move? It’s much more subtle than using words or sounds. Humans are intelligent enough to say that if they go to England it helps to speak English, if they want to talk with me it’s better if they speak a minimum of French  and we haven’t thought about the horses in the same way. With them we speak a human language. I wanted to do the contrary, I wanted to understand the subtleness of the horse.


Has it been a long journey to get to this point – where your horses move as if they were led by an invisible thread ?


At first I tried to use a few words that were strong and precise. But for the past two years, I’ve said to myself that I really want to communicate only through movements. That destabilized me in the beginning because I got used to clicking my tongue like any rider usually does. The first time it didn’t go as well because the horses were used to a certain dialogue between us, to which they responded very well, and when I wanted to go deeper into this subtle langue I felt less sure about myself and the horses were a little bit confused. So we regressed a little.

But I had a new horse, who – unlike the others – still doesn’t know his name. All the others respond to their names but he does not know his, and he was always observing my movements to know what to do and that reassured me. While the others were a little bit confused, he was observing  me all the time to read my movements. So I stayed on this track.


“It all began one the autumn after school when I didn’t have too much time to look after my mares because the evening came fast. I wanted to play with them and didn’t have the time to brush them or put on a saddle.” 


Now a have three babies who are a year and a half. I have a special relationship with them and I feel that we’ve come further than the others who were used to my voice. I even feel less uncomfortable.


Is there a hierarchy where you work with the leader of the herd so that the rest will follow him when he follows you?


No, you really need to have a relation to each individual horse. Only when you have that you can put them in a group, because once you do so, they have a tendency to slide away because of their natural hierarchy. So it is only by having a relation with those who are in the lower echelon of the hierarchy that you can make them come next to the dominant horse, that they feel, it is OK because they are protected by me.


So are you their leader ?


No, I’m a human being among the horses. But I believe strongly in God and think I was made to be dominant over the animals – especially the horses. So I won’t abuse of this power; I want to respect them and believe in this gift that I was born with.


On the beach

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