The Paris Review

Why the French Love Horses

Years ago, the German photographer Jaroslav Poncar told me about running into the legendary French anthropologist Dr. Michel Peissel in Himalaya in the seventies. “People were saying, ‘Peissel is coming! It’s Peissel.’ So I went out to meet them—Peissel and his nice blonde companion,” Poncar added with a grin. Later, in Paris, Peissel and Poncar ended up living on the same street, and Peissel would hang around Poncar’s studio. He was, Poncar said, “a braggart.” Peissel would do things like forget to mention the two mathematicians he met during his seminal travels on the steppes—as if he were the only European to venture so far afield. “And! Michel did discover that horse,” Poncar had sniffed, referring to an archaic Tibetan breed called the Nangchen, which Peissel is credited with bringing to light. “But the French love horses,” Poncar offered by way of explanation. I didn’t. Recently, I attended the ninth edition of the equestrian competition Saut Hermès in Paris. There, people again and again recounted this fact: “The French love horses.”

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