Showman Jean-François Pignon explained a totally different kind of training at this year’s Global Dressage Forum at Hoodge Miedre in the Netherlands (25-26 October), after a display in which horses followed him without headcollars and lay down on command.
“It’s about obtaining respect,” he said.
He uses the same principles of discomfort and reward seen in dressage, tapping with the stick and then rewarding by taking the pressure away as soon as the horse moves towards it.
“The discomfort is compensated with tranquility, rest — something that’s very comforting for the horse,” he explained.
“Where you look is also a ‘discomfort’ tool — if I’m pleased with the horse I look down.
“This is a dominance horses understand. Sure, they’re not stupid — they don’t think I’m the lead horse — but the closer I can get to their natural language, the closer I’m able to get to them.”
For this reason, he does not treat the horses with food as a reward, saying: “The dominant horse in a herd would never share his food.
“The world of horses is not soft and sensual like the human one,” he added. “It’s hard, so my communication is not soft.”
Tineke Bartels, former Olympian and Dutch junior team trainer, was enthralled by Jean-François’ affinity with his horses, but said it was impossible to imitate.
“It’s 24 hours a day being one of them, working around them like a shepherd with his sheep,” she said. “What we can learn from him is how consistent he is with all his communications and how quiet his body language is.”
This is an extract from a report on the Global Dressage Forum, first published in Horse & Hound (4 November, ’10)