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in the Doubs, an enthusiast promotes animal traction and wants it to be recognized as a renewable energy

Working the land with Comtois horses is obvious to Jean-Louis Cannelle. Since 1998, it has offered training in the work and guidance of these animals, emblematic of Franche-Comté.

The day of my meeting with Jean-Louis Cannelle in Villers-sous-Chalamont (Doubs), I had to be early. Because it was at dawn, precisely at sunrise, that the sturdy guy, hat screwed on his head, gave me an appointment.

Comtois horses, working the land, nature and the rising sun are one. It is a harmony. Valuing the work with the Comtois means showing this harmony in its entirety, including the sun.

Jean-Louis Cannelle, founder of the European Center for Resources and Research in Animal Traction

Man has always lived in contact with horses, and for good reason. Located in Villers-sous-Chalamont, just next to Levier, it is located in the heart of a land almost entirely dedicated to Comtois.

In 1998, Jean-Louis created the European center for resources and research in animal traction, CERRTA. A structure that provides courses in hauling, hitching and even farriery.

But what particularly interests me that day is learning how to be a leader.

The leader is the one who will direct the horse, by voice and guides (the long reindeer) to lead the horse where he wants, and with precision, when working the land. A mission which may seem simple but which requires a real bond between man and animal.

Passionate about horses since childhood, I can’t resist the urge to ask Jean-Louis for horse orders. Which, as a good pedagogue, does not hesitate for a second.

In animal traction, we are not talking about reins to lead the horse, but rather about guides. Take them in hand, gently and accompany with your voice, you’ll see, it’s not that complicated.

Timidly, I carry out the master’s instructions. Not without being impressed by the precision of the imposing Comtois walking in front of me. I don’t lose my objective, however: to move a long spruce trunk along a chaotic course, strewn with various obstacles.

Over the reversed cones, I measure the importance of softness and delicacy that must be had with this majestic animal. I also become aware of the need to place myself well on the outside of the turn made by the horse, and of the importance of anticipation. Driving a draft horse cannot be improvised, it is learned, with great motivation, passion and patience.

When skidding in the forest, the horse must not touch any obstacle so as not to injure itself, and the skidded wood must not rub the standing trees so as not to damage them. All the interest is there, to preserve nature, to respect it and not to deteriorate it.

In addition to the training and know-how of the “driver”, the predispositions of the Comtois horse are important. We must not forget that if the breed threatened with extinction has been saved, it is thanks to the meat industry. The selection of specimens with the most predispositions is therefore essential.

Even if the information is not encouraging for our horses which have become emblematic of the region, it is a reality: “today nearly 80% of Comtois horses end up at the butcher’s. This is the price to pay to perpetuate the breed and continue to see them frolic in our meadows” Jean-Louis explains to me. To optimize their efficiency at work, breeders therefore make selections during reproduction.

There are breeding horses, heavier, bigger, for slaughter, and we select finer, more agile horses for work.

After a coffee taken in the middle of the meadow, in the middle of the Comtois in freedom, it is time to part. It’s crazy how time flies, in contact with enthusiasts, in the middle of nature, without stress, and alongside horses who regularly come to ask you for a caress. As if time had stopped, or even moved back a little, to the days of horses and carriages on our streets.

Without being nostalgic for a past and now lost time, the endearing militant peasant of the Confédération paysanne remains objective. He knows that going back in time with simply horses to work the land is not possible, but that doesn’t stop him from dreaming. In the near future, he would simply like “this animal energy is entirely considered as a renewable energy and that this agriculture is fully maintained, to save the world.”

Report to discover in full on France3 Bourgogne-Franche-Comté on Saturday March 19, at 11:25 am in the program “En Terre Animale”, then in replay for a year on france.tv.

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