Jean-Claude Racinet has, as the expression in his adopted culture has it, passed away. And people in many very diverse walks of life have to take stock that he has not "simply passed", that he has not "passed through", come and now regrettably gone, but that he leaves us with an enormous and deep legacy. We are left without him, but by no means left by him. He has left us with a responsibility.


    This is the mark of a Master: We, who have had the privilege to learn from him, must carry on transforming the answers he gave to our queries into further questions, instead of “leaving” them as settled subject matters. Our responsibility to Jean-Claude is to respond to interrogations raised by his very contribution by using what we gleaned from his answers. Racinet was, in the most profound way, a practitioner of never-ending Cartesian critical thinking, a Frenchman. If he came to be known as a seeker and a questioner, and to some as a provider of answers, for him the méthode was central: the existential necessity to never stop, neither when confronted with a seemingly unclarifiable question, nor to "rest" having found a seemingly satisfactory answer. To question, to continue, to "advance", that was the heart of Jean-Claude.


    Jean-Claude Racinet was soft and fierce, warm and aloof, single-minded and mercurial, complex and simple, he was at times contrary and always utterly open-minded, in a word, by "normal" standards, paradoxical. No wonder, then, that he was sometimes misunderstood, not the least by those whose understanding of him appeared, to them, the most certain, by those who thought they "knew Racinet": by those who utterly disagreed with him (and didn't see that what he offered was precisely that which would have made such disagreement entirely unnecessary) and by those who, sometimes to the point of taking on the rôle of acolytes, fervently agreed with him (and didn't see that such "servility", although it certainly brought him joy and contentment, was in contradiction to the critical questioning attitude which was at the heart of what he tried to convey).



    Maître was a title all too rarely given to Racinet in his life-time, much too easily given to some who couldn’t hold a candle to Jean-Claude (a title which he in his inimitable self-deprecatory manner "forbade" me to employ, insisting we remain in our odd habit of mutual address which the circumstances of our, in some way comparable, lives afforded us: always informal and American, first-name based, sometimes European and formal-sounding, with sudden and marked shifts between "toi" and "vous"). For most, Jean-Claude will be remembered as a maître d'équitation. How limitative such a vision of the man is! Today, that which he brought to the field of horsemanship may be his most widely (and still much too little) known contribution, but it does Racinet injustice to ignore or to underrate his work as a writer of political and of literary texts or as a composer of music, among many other things. He was not one of those uni-dimensional "masters" whose excellence is measured by seminal works in one domain only, in truth his mastery lies in the multi-dimensionality of his life and work and in the struggle, and success, to integrate its multifarious aspects. Such a way demands courage, perseverance, and focus, and, above all, an unwavering sense of solidarity, solidarity with others, commitment to self, and devotion to the causes chosen. Jean-Claude the family man, the horseman, the military man, the artist, the colleague, the friend, the sheer "human being", exemplified all these values. It is in that, as a model of "doing life", that he was and remains an inspiration.

    Racinet combined a staunch (in the very best sense) "conservativism", a centredness and rootedness, with a never-ceasing daring to "push the limits". His native Normandie "peasant" stalwartness, his French urbaneness, his American (and thus deeply "republican") love for, and ever-ready defense of, freedom, made him, altogether, a sparkling, yet sometimes not easy to see “into”, let alone to see through, person. His life was far from "easy", and he wouldn't have wanted it any other way; he sometimes didn't make it easy on himself, and couldn't have done it any other way. He had to "grit his teeth", he fought hard, but knew that true "strategy" (and how well he knew that!) always, to be successful, had to incorporate (in his words) a Taoist softness. By taking nothing lightly (nothing, except the insignificant), he knew how to come to légèreté (on matters of vapidness, he could be "heavy").



    Jean-Claude Racinet, the horseman, could not be anything else but a Baucherist. Maybe it could even be said that he couldn't be anything but a horseman in his "profession" (that it couldn’t also be music was his lifelong regret). He was a professor, even (and especially to those who could get an inkling of the man) a confessor: Be it in his inimitable writing or in his oral teaching, he (in the best sense of the word) not only professed, i.e. conveyed, held forth, and exemplified, but also confessed, avowed to his beliefs, made himself (and let himself be made) the voice of a creed. In that, he was a religious man - by no means a man of any "church" or institution, but one who always was aware of life's relatedness with and connection to "higher and deeper things". His scientifically-minded inquisitiveness and his gnostic leanings (the former "official" through his public contributions in books and teaching, the latter, more "private" and known only to few, in his final years' research into issues of "energetics" in the horse) were not only not in contradiction with each other, they indeed "fed and fertilized" each other. Baucher and Faverot de Kerbrech, his maîtres de pensée, had spoken of training and riding horses as eminently practical (free of what they considered the theorizing humbug of traditional dogma) and as "transcendental"; Racinet followed them in his apparently "elementary" practical, hands-on approach (there was no difference for him and with him between beginner and advanced, be it horse or rider), yet called it outright "esoteric". His critical assessment of the essence of "l'équitation de tradition française" (his conceptual evaluation and reorganization and further development of it which, and rightly so, was called "Baucher Third Manner" but which has, to date, not gained the notoriety it merits, except among a much too remote "underground") makes Racinet into one of the most important modern theoreticians of equestrianism - yet, he always (though not without a grin) expressed to me his "humility" in comparison to the "old masters", none of whom escaped his critical scrutiny. Similarly, he always, when we spoke of "real horse work", insisted that he was "not a master rider" (yet, what he may have – again, with a grin - shrugged off and what is too widely unknown among those who took and still take him to be a "dressage" expert, appears in a totally different light when one knows what masters such as Durand or Chapot, olympians of show jumping, think of his work with horses in that discipline!). It was always difficult to compliment Jean-Claude (and to not compliment him, to not show one's understanding of his seminal contribution, even worse). Racinet's humility was the fruit of his awareness that a man's contributions will be measured, maybe past his living time, by the value given to the cause, not by the more immediate usefulness and needs of contemporaries' interests. Provocative and exaggerating he may have seemed to some, irrelevant and marginal to others, speaker of truths, innovator and "breath of fresh air" to the few who could "hear" him -  Jean-Claude took the measure of it all, followed his vocation, adhered to his calling, did what he must and never did less than the best he could. He was a man of measure.


    And he had his foibles, his idiosyncrasies, his quirks. He was a man. He made mistakes, not the least the ones leading to his fall. A saddening  synchronicity it is that when it all, all his life's (and not only equestrian life’s) work, "came together", when he (as we, he and I, often remarked with bepuzzlement and relief and joy!) came to the "lion's den" and brought his teaching to Central Europe's riders, it led, by the obscure paths of fate, to his leaving. It is we all who fell with his demise, we the remaining "people of the horse".


    But Jean-Claude Racinet, by leaving, also raises us, he challenges us, still. We may have been few people, during his lifetime, to come to understand what it was in what he brought to us which elevated us: not his excellent methods nor the rightness of his “contents”, but the “height” of his principles. His human principles were the same as his equestrian principles. That is why “doing à la Racinet” with horses while not doing it with our fellow human beings and with the universe we all share, will be the sign of not having understood Master Racinet at all. We who now carry on and take the responsibility he left us with, must not only not forget the man and his work, but we must, most importantly, do his work, in the spirit of Jean-Claude Racinet: we must be critical, questioning, open-minded, flexible, tolerant, devoted, measured, principled. To relegate Racinet to the past would be as false to him as to “borrow bits and pieces” from him for utilitarian purposes or even to make him into an authority of a presumably unassailable truth.


    A good many years ago, the waitresses in the little restaurant in Oak Bay, Washington State, wondered what these two "weird Frenchmen" were doing (as they seamlessly switched from French to English to German - oh, yes, he knew German well - , from horse talk to politics to music to gastronomy to linguistics, from serious talk to Homeric laughter, from warm dialogue to seemingly fierce altercation, from shared thoughts on Europe to disagreements on America, from memories of Africa, his so much less peaceful than mine, to musings on the future of our children...). Jean-Claude had finished a clinic, I had come down from Canada to try prod him into "bringing his writing and thinking" to Europe, to German-speaking countries, by translating his texts. One young lady waiting on us finally dared to ask. And with a smile, Jean-Claude said, as I remember: "Ah, we're horsemen, so we discuss and shout a lot. That's all head stuff. But we both know and love what it feels like to have a really good horse under us and, also, we both know and love the hot night skies of Africa ... so, don't misunderstand: with our bodies, we're both in the same world. We actually totally agree with each other, silently."

    Jean-Claude Racinet: He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.

© Christian Kristen von Stetten


©W. Rudolph


Patrice Franchet d'Espèrey
Écuyer at the Cadre Noir, Saumur

    It is the essence of those who have forever left us which we hope to preserve: Their warmth of heart and kindness, their practical wisdom, their insights, their sheer know-how in all its subtlety. And we also deeply wish to remember the way in which they approached problems we still have to tackle, how they thought about them and analyzed them, how they solved them. Their spirit, then, it is which we long to see alive and continuing, although they are gone.

    Jean-Claude Racinet was with horses and on a horse when he started to leave this world. All his life was defined by his relationship with the horse, and so was his demise. He belongs to the lineage of masters of the Baucherist school, of that equestrian philosophy which fundamentally holds that the method suggested by the doctrine has to be transcended and that one can and must discover one's own path and manner. In that, Racinet has been eminently successful. Building on the ostheopathic theory of Dr. Giniaux, he brought to modern riders the means of the rational use of the techniques of the "mise en main", he showed them how to effectively influence the totality of the horse's movement mechanics and how to reduce those tensions which inhibit their optimal functioning.

    Racinet was the living proof that Baucherism is on open system of thought to which every true Master of riding can contribute in his most personal manner and within which every rider of high calibre can invent his own technical particularities. Everything and anything the rider does which leads to the horse attaining a state of higher relaxation is acceptable within the Baucherist framework. Baucherism is a never-ending reinvention, it can even be said that its very condition of existence is to be continuously recreated. For the baucherist rider and trainer has no interest in movements, however exceptional or spectacular they may be, which are not based on the horse's education, on the animal's ever more refined understanding of the aids - any execution of exercises which is not the product and the realization of such refinement would be nothing but the mechanized repetition of standardized gestures. In short, the baucherist approach is open to differences in technique, it allows for variation in practice, it is a humanist philosophy which has the personal development of the studious rider, the well-being and the conservation of the horse, at heart.

    Jean-Claude Racinet was such a humanist. Until his last breath, he embodied and defended the very principles of French riding and as such and for that he will remain forever in our memory.

©Patrice Franchet d'Espèrey
©Translation: Christian Kristen von Stetten
with the kind permission of the author


    Riding & Reading Copyright © 2009 Christian Kristen von Stetten.   Website by Equine Design Graphics