A twenty-horse Franches-Montagnes carriage team for Jérôme Voutaz

23 June 2020

While driving competitions are still at a standstill for the moment, Jérôme Voutaz has taken up an incredible challenge: driving a twenty-horse carriage team! Not for a few hundred meters in a straight line... but over a real course for a 20km drive... just for the fun of it!

Many breeds dream of having an ambassador like the Swiss driver is for the Franches-Montagnes breed! One week after his exploit, Jérôme Voutaz has released a wonderful video of his journey. It’s a great opportunity to follow along with this crazy idea from a man who remains, above all else, straightforward, calm and passionate.

"Actually, driving that 20-horse team wasn't that difficult. The important thing for me was to really get to know my two wheelers and my two lead horses well. I placed horses in those positions that I really trusted. The first 6-8 leader horses were actually really safe horses! Of those twenty horses, twelve are part of our team at La Ferme des Moulins. For the rest, I called friends, and everyone quickly showed up... but with some horses I didn't really know. Some of the horses had only ever been hitched to one other horse before and they joined the twenty-horse team without any worries. For example, I had a horse which was born on at La Ferme des Moulins but which we sold at the age of three and which must be seven or eight now, as well as a five-year-old horse that I bought at 3 years old but gave to a friend so that he could work it... so I didn't know them really at all. These horses, and others that had only been hitched in pairs, were placed at the belly of the team. It's an expression that a journalist once used, and I think it's a really good fit.

What was really important with the team that we had was to not cut the corners with my lead horses or it would have been a disaster, and then you had to counter the curve... but that's when you see how well the carriage horse knows his job! That is also where I tell myself that even though I don't really know other breeds of horses... I wouldn't want to harness up any other breed in the world other than the Franches-Montagnes. They’re truly such a willing breed with an incredible mind. For this challenge, we gathered together twenty horses, and lined them all up. For a minute we heard a few neighs, and then it was over! It was as if everyone was concentrating on their work. We started to harness them up and there wasn’t any need to stay at each horses’ head to keep them calm. As soon as we added a pair to the carriage, we moved on to the next without necessarily having to stay at the head of the other horses! They are really incredible," explains Jérôme Voutaz with passion, even though he doesn't want to take any of the glory for the craze around the Franches-Montagnes breed which has spread far beyond Swiss borders, largely thanks to his exploits. "I don't know if I can really consider myself an ambassador for the Franches-Montagnes. I want to defend and promote Swiss values and it’s clear to me that the Franches-Montagnes is one. And of course it’s obviously a source of pride to promote Swiss horses."

This challenge is worthy of one of the rare leaders of the sport to be able to stand up to Australian driver Boyd Exell, but this season is marked, as in other disciplines, by the absence of competition and the cancellation of the World Championships!

"Our aim with this challenge is to show that we are united and that we are capable of bringing people together with one objective: having fun... we had a lot of fun that day! And of course we still have lots of other ideas... but with this, we had everything and everyone available to make it a reality, and we had enough trained and freshly shod horses... we'll see what happens next. Our priority is still sport. I recently sent some videos to my trainer, Félix Brasseur, and we both think that we’ve never had horses in such good shape. The cancellation of the world championships is therefore very sad for us but I remain optimistic for the future. I've been training with Félix Brasseur for four years now and thanks to him we're only getting better. He's a really great person. He competes in the sport himself and his advice is invaluable. We have the same philosophy; he likes to take his time to build a horse up; I really like his approach. He points me in the direction I need to work on. He has enabled us to really progress enormously in the dressage, which was our weak point. In the beginning, you don't always understand what you’re doing, you have to be patient, but he knows where he’s going and it's really nice to be able to count on a trainer like him. A driver can bring his enthusiasm and passion, but it's the coach who helps the team progress and I'm really grateful to him for that," says the Swiss Champion, who is a mechanic by trade, and displays his passionate amateur side with great pride, as we would so like to see more often.