HORSE POWER: Five minutes with equestrian artist, Jean-François Pignon

Stella grew up riding horses, a time to reconnect with nature and our fellow creatures that she learned from her mother, Linda. An homage to the things – and people – that Stella loves, the Winter 2023 runway show nods to her roots, celebrating an inherent love and deep respect for animals.

Jean-François Pignon is an accomplished equestrian artist, horse whisperer and rescuer, showcasing the powerful relationship he has with his ponies at our Winter 2023 runway show at the historic Manège de l’École Militaire – France’s oldest riding school.

With over 35 years of experience, Jean-François shares his extraordinary connection with his horses and his method of training them all over the world. As a young boy, he was fixated on sports until his father gifted him a one-year-old mare named Gazelle, sparking an instant relationship.

At 14, Jean-François performed alongside his brother Frédéric, where they acted roles as circus riders alongside Gazelle. Today, he owns 17 horses – many of which are from Gazelle’s bloodline.

I am in awe of Jean-Francois and the love, respect and trust he shows are possible between humans and horses.

Stella McCartney

Tell us about how you got started in equestrian artistry. How did it all begin for you?

I started out with a mare named Gazelle; she was a Christmas gift from my father. And I admit that this mare fascinated me. I was fascinated by this animal and the fact that she was very powerful on one side [physically] and yet also somewhat fragile on the other [emotionally].

We formed a relationship that allowed us to create a bond. With this little mare, I had fun playing – a little like I could have played with a dog. Eventually, Gazelle brought me into the world of horses. But it wasn’t what I’d planned or wanted. It was our destiny, as you might say.

How did this bond with Gazelle lead to your performances?

I already loved animals, but Gazelle introduced me to the world of horses. I found myself face-to-face with an animal that was exceptional. One thing led to another, and I now have four horses, including her daughter Salsa.

[Horses] really are my favourite animal today. We started to move forward in more precise exercises, more delicate each time.

What was the moment when you realised you had a unique connection with horses?

One day I realised that to make myself understood by a stranger, I had to speak their language. Quite simply, I said to myself one day that, for the horse to understand me better, I had to adopt their language. I observed [their language] to see which codes worked between the horse and its peers.

I could see that humans and horses have really big differences, both in terms of language and codes. What is fascinating to me is to see how they manage to express their love for each other. I use mimicry to try and convey my love to horses in the same way that they do to each other – with a lot of subtlety, with a lot of deference.

Horses share a lot through their breath. When we observe how horses breathe, what is fascinating what small changes and differences can mean in communication. We will not see a horse giving a gift to another horse to prove its love, but looking in the same direction, being flank to flank, breath to breath.

What are your other means of communicating with your horses?

There is also grooming, which is a kind of caress that is done at the level of the withers. The horses do that to each other. I also noticed that it was by no means a reward-driven moment or act. It is really a privilege to observe the horses. Above all, you shouldn’t apply anthropomorphism and start thinking that a horse thinks like a human being.

Our Winter 2023 collection is a celebration of love between mothers, daughters, sisters, nature, humans and animals. It is what Stella loves.