Jean Charles Sarri had already spent much of his childhood on horse-back, riding through the rolling hills behind his hometown of Cannes on the south coast of France.

The day he made his decision between campouts or mucking stalls was the day he received a riding hat, crop and tack as a birthday gift from his father.

“He knew I would pick horses, and so he had the gift waiting for me in the back of his car,” Sarri remembers.

With his new gear, the young Sarri daydreamed of lazy summer afternoons playing cowboys and Indians on horseback. But his father had different ideas. Namely, Army Training School and anything-but-lazy summer vacations in the prestigious Cadre Noir de Saumur, an elite French riding school on a par with some of the most famous in the world.

As a young man, with years of choice horse training under his belt, and fresh out the Army, Sarri’s path diverged and diverged again, taking him from a position as gala organizer at the Cannes Film Festival, to a honeymoon in California that would change the direction of his life.

 

“I came to San Diego on a honeymoon with my first wife. America was nothing like the French had portrayed – terrible food, guns, gangs, nothing but skyscrapers. It was friendly, clean and beautiful. I couldn’t believe it,” Sarri said.

Without turning back, Sarri moved to San Diego and then to Santa Barbara, where he worked construction for Chuck Cunningham, quickly becoming known as the guy who would and could do just about anything.

It was on a rare day off, in search of Red Rock, that Sarri got lost and subsequently found his way to Santa Ynez. The valley reminded him of the rolling hills behind the beach town where he grew up. Instantly enamored and drawn to reïmmerse himself in an equestrian community, Sarri moved to a house on Alamo Pintado and landed a job driving a tractor at Firestone Vineyards.

“I didn’t have a car back then, and hardly spoke English, so I just ran to odd jobs.

“One day Dean East, manager of Firestone, stopped to give me a ride and he asked if I could drive a tractor. I wanted a real job so I told him I could,” Sarri remembers.

For the years following, Sarri road his horse, Fury, to work the fields, planting and sulfuring vines for Firestone and Carey Cellar Vineyards, until the pull to be with horses became too strong. A friendship with valley resident Susan Davidge, founder of the California Dressage Society, launched his career as one of the valley’s premier horse trainers, and landed him in the hearts of a community that knows him simply as “Frenchie.”

 

Now an expert in horse rehabilitation, Sarri is gifted in taking troubled, injured or poorly trained horses and nurturing them to their best potential, mentally and physically.

With the help of daughter Ariane, Sarri currently has 28 privately owned horses under his care, some at Cherokee Ranch on Calzada Road.

“The first step is earning the horse’s trust; once you have their trust, then they can learn. We teach them balance, suppleness, and the ability to use their body with grace. Many horses have been asked too much too fast, so a lot of my job is to rehabilitate them mentally so I can start to rehabilitate them physically,” Sarri said.

Sarri goes on to explain that everyone wants the perfect horse in Competition Dressage.

It is a must — nothing but the most expensive, naturally talented animal. In Classical Dressage the emphasis is on discovering a horse’s talent and nurturing it — a concept that speaks to the heart of why Sarri has enjoyed a life with horses here in the valley for nearly 30 years.

In addition to rehabilitation, Sarri also trains horses in the discipline of carriage, jumping and Western styles. 

 

He spends most of his time at the stables with the horses, and giving private or semi-private lessons to the horse owners themselves.

“We rehabilitate horses, but we also help people. Some of my clients have been in accidents or have simply lost confidence, which makes for an uncomfortable relationship with their animal.

“We teach them how to care for their horses emotionally and physically, and in the process build back confidence in their own ability as the owner,” Sarri said.

It is this sort of comprehensive care that makes Sarri sought after time and again, and it is the relationship he builds with the owners and the horses that give him an edge as an effective trainer.

“You must first love what you do. That is why I want to thank the community for supporting me in what I love doing. After 28 years, I was able to fulfill the American Dream — I bought a house with Gina in Santa Ynez,” Sarri said.

 

Gina Crippa, owner of Bella Fiori, and Sarri have been together for 10 years, supporting each other in their respective businesses and reveling in the beauty of a place Sarri calls “God’s Pocket.”

“Santa Ynez Valley is God’s Pocket,” Sarri said.

“Certain kinds of people don’t last here; it’s like they get spit out. The people who live here are blessed.”

For training information contact Jean Charles Sarri at 805-588-3971.