[copyright Kip Mistral 2023. “Dame de la Brigade des Abeses” by Jean Berain, Illustrator, 1685.]
I spent the pandemic in 18th century France.
For month after month I sift through faded, handwritten registers of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths, and a 2,000 page historical almanac of the time. The purpose is to research the lives of several of the King of France’s royal ecuyers, about whom little is really known. (But that will be changing soon.)
And why would that interest anyone but me? Because in doing the research I learn that these great horsemen, great riders, teachers and trainers, devote their entire lives from childhood until death, dedicated to studying horses and horsemanship to a degree that we don’t see in modern times except in very few cases.
Through the King’s household records, I watch their lives evolve. They begin as pages to the royal family at Versailles, at 8 or 9 years old. At about 15 they join the school of pages in the Grande and Petite Ecuries and live in the soaring stables above the finest horses in the world. Their riding masters, who comprise the world-famous “School of Versailles,” are the most accomplished in the world, and the School of Versailles is considered by all to be the Mecca of high equitation. When they graduate the school of pages after three years, the best students, including my subjects, are promoted into the inner cosmos of the workings of the King’s stables.
While they continue their own educations in high equitation, they begin training horses and teaching the students of the Pages schools and the few outside riders that are allowed the honor. As time goes by they are promoted into positions of higher and higher responsibility. We find out which grand apartments they are given in the stables for their own living space, and how this indicates the esteem in which they are held. They both write highly regarded books before their sadly early deaths, the causes of which I have not yet been able to determine. They have lived, breathed and died their passion for horses and equitation in a period of time that represents the zenith of horsemanship, when everyone needed horses.
The ideal is that the horse is left time to grow and develop…not started until 5 or 6 or even later, depending on the individual and the breed. The horse is studied carefully to determine his strengths, weaknesses, and his natural gifts, and assigned the best role accordingly. He is suppled and strengthened carefully, and trained to preserve his confidence in his handlers and pride in his performance. After all, this is a horse that royalty or aristocracy will be riding. The horse must know and do his job so well that he carries his noble rider looking as if he is doing everything himself and it is his idea. This horse is never on the forehand or pulling on the rider, no devices are used. He moves in self-carriage, perfectly balanced on his four legs. He knows how to use himself, and can go anywhere and do anything. The aids are invisible. The image is of grace and elegance.
For these reasons, then, the classical philosophy and foundation would be the best foundation for a horse of any discipline, even western. Author Charles O. Williamson, and his student Roy Yates trained their western horses classically and it was the most gorgeous picture to watch those horses do their work in a classical balance.
Intelligent horses, which most are, enjoy the process and results of their educations and are proud of their knowledge. Give the thoughtful, progressive methods of classical training a look and enjoy the fruits of hundreds of years of masterful horsemanship…