In a nod to bygone times, the town of Hennebont in Brittany, France, has brought back the horse and wagon to its streets. Dispar is one of two Breton draft horses who have been enlisted to pull the refuse wagon down residential streets collecting bins – in other words, the throwback method of garbage collection. And it’s a major hit with locals and sanitation engineers alike.

“This job is so much nicer with an animal,” Julien, 38, who was trained on tradition garbage trucks, told The Guardian newspaper. “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.”

The environmental upside is tough to argue with, and as we’ve seen countless times with police horses in the community, the presence of horses doing jobs and interacting with people tends to elicit more smiles.

According to The Guardian article, the town of Hennebont has a population of around 15,000 people and is only the latest, not the first, to offer training sessions for municipal horses, carriage drivers and local authority workers. “Its municipal Breton draft horses, Dispar and Circus, are brothers aged eight and nine who weigh about 900 kg (1,984 lbs) each, and live outdoors in a vast paddock with limited work hours,” the report states. “Their plodding pace, at 6-8 km/h (3.7-5 mph), includes transporting children from an after-school club to the canteen, taking shoppers to market, activities at a local care home and collecting rubbish. But much of their time is spent resting.”

Other towns in northern France began reintroducing horses into daily work chores since the 1990s. But with the climate crisis and the energy issues arising from the war in Ukraine, to name but two pressing events, the interest in equine power has grown. The concept of the “municipal horse” came about to address various needs including upkeep of natural spaces, cleaning of waterways, beaches, collecting waste, security work, grass cutting, and more. They are also employed at vineyards and for market gardening.

The economic element is also enticing, as buying a horse and wagon is cheaper than a truck. And let’s not forget the social aspect, according to l’Energie Cheval , (the French Society for Working Equines, committed to breeding, enhancing and conserving the French breeds of working equine), “Horses bring about contact and encourage communication which makes it easier to get messages across.” Just don’t call it old-fashioned.

“It’s absolutely not a return to the past,” said Vanina Deneux-Le Barh, a sociologist at the French Institute for Horses and Riding to the paper. “It’s a sustainable development approach, about respecting nature and welfare in new, innovative ways.”