Jean-Francois Pignon – A Most Accomplished Horseman?

Jean-Francois Pignon

Jean-Francois Pignon from France is one of the world’s most accomplished horsemen. While he may not compete in any discipline, he has a group of horses with whom he travels the world, entertaining audiences at shows and events with his extraordinary displays of horsemanship and control. One such event he was invited to was the recent London International Horse Show at Olympia just before Christmas.

In his display at Olympia, Jean-Francois had fourteen horses in the arena, none of which had any head gear or tack and therefore had no direct contact with the maestro. They were all controlled entirely through voice and movements/actions from Jean-Francois using nothing more than a guiding whip. The horses are never hit at any time throughout his routine with the whip. The performance continued for ten minutes, starting with seven white horses cantering into the arena followed by Jean-Francois. They stand around him in a circle before the comic of the show turns up, apparently late! A small white Shetland pony. This pony is really the highlight of the show as he rather does his own thing throughout and amuses the audience with his naughtiness and independence. The control that Jean-Francois has over the horses, including another six dark bay horses this time, joining the others in the arena after a few minutes. Apart from the Shetland, Jean has all the other thirteen horses working in unison, running them in circles and straight lines and even has them lying down to command. The pony even lies down at one point. The finale of the show is the pony placing his front feet on Jean’s shoulders and hopping around the arena on his hind legs.

Jean-Francois Pignon grew up on a farm in western France at Chalonnes-sur-Loire. At 13 years of age, Jean-Francois developed an extraordinary relationship with an 18 month old filly which his father had rescued called Gazelle. He learnt how he could control the filly with only his voice and his body movements, using no tack whatsoever, and gained her absolute trust. In 1991, he performed with this pony for the first time in public. In the show, he and his brother Frederic performed as a duo, riding the horses bare-back as circus riders. However, the double act was not to last very long and the two brothers soon went their separate ways. Nevertheless, such was the euphoric success of the shows, Jean-Francois decided to make his special brand of performance his career. Ever since he has mesmerised audiences around the world. . Perhaps one of the surprising things about Jean-Francois, is that he has never been injured by any of his horses. He puts this down to gaining their absolute trust in him and never making a sudden movement which could spook the horse. Another fact, not generally known is how religious he is. This came about after his first horse, Gazelle, became very ill and it was looking like there was no hope when a priest suggested that he came to the horse and they prayed together. In desperation, Jean-Francois agreed and as the priest ‘laid hands’ on the horse it began to recover. Convinced that he had just witnessed a miracle, Jean-Francois has ever since been a proud committed Christian.

When he is not touring or training his horses, he teaches others his unique way of ‘horse whispering’ using just voice and body language. He has been in films, one of which he wrote and starred which was released in 2014. He has appeared in numerous ‘horse handling’ films, documentaries and TV series including William Tell. He currently lives with his second wife in southern France. He has six children from his two marriages.

Jean-Francois Pignon’s performs at about 20 venues a year around the world and each performance is quite extraordinary. The writing of a piece like this certainly does them no justice at all. However, it must be said that the time and effort that goes into putting these shows together must be limitless. It is so noticeable how much absolute trust each animal has in the ring master. In fact it is more than that, it is more a fondness that each have for the other.

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