the draft horse has his school

Saint-Émilion (Gironde), report

Laughter echoes from the Château Soutard stables located in Saint-Émilion. The five trainees wait around for a cup of coffee while their horses finish eating. Today they start a new training day development » : 140 hours where they meet three to four days a month to learn everything about draft horses.

The National Winery Horse School trains its own horses, which it receives at very young ages, often rescued from slaughterhouses. In France, this type of horse is bred mainly for its meat. But its consumption is decreasing, this school represents new outlets for breeders. According to a 2020 survey by the French Horse and Equestrian Institute and the French Wine and Wine Institute, almost 300 winegrowers (out of more than 80,000 wineries) used horses on their plots. But 63 % of them had to call in external service providers and not their own animals. Hence the interest of these trainees to learn to be autonomous with these animals.

A draft horse of the Percheron breed on the estate. © Alban Dejong / Reporters

Although they come from different backgrounds, the trainees share a common passion: growing the vine. They feel the need for a return to nature and want to preserve the earth. Charles is, for example, manager of a property in Bergerac. Having recently switched to organic, he wants to demechanize as much as possible and prefer quality over quantity: I want to return to something more human, more in touch with the vine. »

The same for Serge, farmer: I have horses for free, but I wanted to spend more time with them, connect my two passions. Integrating animal traits on my farm is in line with my work and my values: no noise, no diesel, it’s more virtuous. I do not intend to remove the tractor, but to reduce its use. »

Charles, farmer, education student. © Alban Dejong / Reporters

First of all, you have to practice. The morning is dedicated to plowing between the vines. The students harness the school horses: Barbara, a Percheron, and Hector, a Breton. Two animals that know their job perfectly and give students the opportunity to learn in the best conditions. The preparation is collective, conducive to pedagogy and the reminder of the basics under the watchful eye of teacher Franck.

Make every adjustment correctly, set every girth in the right direction… Proper tension of your horse is essential to avoid injury. After a final review of the tools, go to the plot to be worked. The group splits into two. Some stay with Barbara to play the record, another with Hector to try their hand at the scrapper, the most physical and technical work of processing the vines.

Margaux and Inès, students in training, are playing the disc in the vineyards. © Alban Dejong / Reporters

The stripper is a traditional tool used to weed around the vines. Its use is much more physical than the tractor, but no less delicate. It allows you to go much deeper into the ground. The horse has learned to stop as soon as it feels resistance so that it does not tear off the foot, unlike a tractor that can tear off a whole row if there is a technical error. » explains Frank.

Hector leaves »

Charles lends himself to the exercise. Hector, go. »Both hands on the tool, Charles guides it between the vines as Hector walks ahead, adjusting to the rhythm of his leader. Hector is a fantastic horse that knows how to adapt perfectly to the person he has behind him »comments Frank.

Charles passes the digger. © Alban Dejong / Reporters

On the other side of the row, Inès and Margaux are with Barbara to play the record. A tool that allows you to level the ground raised after the passage of the excavator: The difficult thing here is to maintain the same tension on the reins, so that the horse walks perfectly straight. »explains Inès, if it deviates slightly, it risks hitting a row. »

A versatile worker in a biodynamic domain, Inès wants to reintroduce this activity, an approach she considers much more respectful of nature. Horses cause less nuisance and respect the ecosystem more than tractors, which can compact the soil and emit a lot of greenhouse gases. It also makes it possible to work on grounds that are sometimes inaccessible to the tractor.

Ludo, training advisor. © Alban Dejong / Reporters

For the French Society of Working Equidae (Sfet), it could help put working horses back at the heart of French society a positive development of our economic and social system ». An evolution which would make it possible to limit the use of fossil energies and which, by deeply linking the horse to it, would also change the relationship with the vine.

Vineyard horses and gardener’s donkeys

In addition to the winegrower’s horse school, it also created the school for horticultural donkeys. Finally, the National School of Territorial Horse will see the light of day in the municipality of Hennebont (Morbihan) in the fall of 2022. It will be dedicated to municipalities that seek to use horses to collect waste or maintain green areas, for example. .

Inuit, Comtois draft horse. © Alban Dejong / Reporters

When the horse school training is completed, the students can, if they wish, buy one of the school’s horses. Inès is especially a fan of Inuit, a young man from Comtois, whom she sees integrating well into the field where she works.

This small group will meet until October, before they can work in pairs with their horse, far from the noise of the machines, independently in the silence of the plots, thus returning as close as possible to the vines.

© Alban Dejong / Reporters

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