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‘A gentle calm’: France’s streets once again echo to sound of working horses

Dispar, a Breton draft horse, pulls refuse collectors in Hennebont, Brittany.
Dispar, a Breton draft horse, pulls refuse collectors in Hennebont, Brittany. Photograph: Thomas Louapre/The Guardian

Towns say they are not driven by nostalgia as they opt for horsepowered bin collections and school runs

The clip-clop of hooves marked the start of the morning rubbish collection in the Brittany town of Hennebont, as Dispar, a Breton draft horse, pulled a small cart towards the waste bins on a central street.

“This job is so much nicer with an animal,” said Julien, 38, who usually worked emptying bins on to a motorised rubbish-truck in another town but was training in horse-drawn techniques. “People see you differently, they say hello instead of beeping. This is the future, it saves on pollution, petrol and noise. And it makes people smile. Normally, I’d be constantly breathing in exhaust fumes behind my lorry, so this feels much healthier.”

Faced with climate breakdown, the energy crisis, and modern stress levels, there is a growing movement in French towns to bring back the horse and cart as an alternative to fossil fuels and a way to slow down urban life.

Florence, an estate agent in Hennebont, always stepped out of her office to watch the horse-drawn bin cart pass. “When I hear the sound of the hooves it’s just total happiness to me,” she said. “It brings a kind of gentle calm in these frantic times. It brings a bit of poetry into daily life, a reminder that things can be more simple. If I could live in a world without cars, I would.”

Since the first trials to reintroduce draft horses for municipal tasks in the mid-1990s, the number of French towns and urban areas using them has multiplied by almost 20 and continues to rise

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