Reflections on the Art of Horsemanship – H. J. Heyer – Preface…to see and understand the horse from within before trying to improve on it

Reflections on the Art of Horsemanship – H. J. Heyer – Preface…to see and understand the horse from within before trying to improve on it

Text extracted from “Reflections on the Art of Horsemanship” by H. J. Heyer © 1968 J. A. Allen & Company Ltd, London. “H. J. Heyer has, in his time, ridden a wide variety of horses both in Europe and in other parts of the world. He regards riding as a very personal affair between horse and rider.” Cover art by Miss Catherine Edkins.

This book is not supposed to be another riding manual–they are a dozen to the dime, nor is it a work on the finer arts of riding. Any attempt to improve on Xenophon, de la Guérinière or Seunig would only, at its best, produce a pointless parallel.

I am, on these pages, simply trying to express a few thoughts of my own on the subject of horsemanship.

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The Lively Equestrian Art of Eugène-Louis Lami

The Lively Equestrian Art of Eugène-Louis Lami

[© 2021 Kip Mistral. Eugène-Louis Lami (1800-1890) “Un Manège”: gouache, 1878] 

Since it first floated by me, I have loved this charming painting of riders and noise-desensitizing helpers carrying on in a small manège somewhere in time. The drummer is taking a rest, the trainer is comforting his horse in the pillars. A young couple are managing to court in the middle of it all as the amazones and cavaliers continue their tight circles together on their supercharged horses. I had the brilliant idea of doing a reverse image search for it, and found one instance of it on the entire internet. Yet that was enough to find the artist’s name and further search unexpectedly unlocked a whole treasure trove of equestrian art.

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UNCUT: The Vanishing Point of the Eighth Art; 2005 Interview with Michel Henriquet

UNCUT: The Vanishing Point of the Eighth Art; 2005 Interview with Michel Henriquet

[© 2020 Kip Mistral. I recorded this uncut interview with Michel Henriquet at his estate, Fief de la Panetière, Autoillet, France, Sunday, February 27, 2005. The internationally well-received article “The Vanishing Point of Lightness” I wrote based on this interview and was first published in the Equine Journal, reprinted in L’Annee Hippique and multiple other publications. Photo courtesy of Catherine Henriquet.]

“Marvellous animal, the horse deserves of his rider the understanding of his character and potential. The art of riding is the school of surrender and humility. Its practice, if well executed, makes of the human a greater being.” Nuno Oliveira

Is there a “glass ceiling,” an intangible barrier, for classical equitation, the fine art of riding?

Master Oliveira considered that it was impossible to reconcile the classical equitation, meaning the equitation of the School of Versailles, with the modern dressage.

And I think the same thing.

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Un Cheval de Phidias

Un Cheval de Phidias

(Excerpt from Un Cheval de Phidias, by Victor Cherbuliez, Michel Lévy Frères, Libraires Editeurs, Paris, 1864. Translated by A. Forbes Sievering, 1905.)

“Look at this horseman wearing his Arcadian pilos, draped in his closely-folded mantle, the fringe overhanging his leg. See how their poses, their attitudes go together; how the head of the rider leaning forward and gently bowed over his breast responds to the undulating movement of the horse’s crest; and how all these lines compose that delicious melody of forms, which modern sculpture has not been able to reproduce. And then observe that this unison of lines and movements is only the emblem of the concert of souls and thoughts. In both man and horse the same ease, the same surrender–no effort–a vigour self-assured, and revelling in free play. Incontestably the rider commands, but it is hardly noticeable–he acts upon the horse by imperceptible aids, united to it, like the human bust to the quadruped in the Centaur: the education which the horseman has received is transmitted to the horse. Both have the same family likeness, the same grace, the same strength, the same gentleness, the same pride–exhaling the dignity of a free heart mastered only by reason. Riders and horsemen have all been educated between the soft Attic sky, amid the olives of the Academy and the laurels of Cephisius, within sight of sacred Hymettus, in the lifetime of Pericles, Aspasia, and Socrates. Riders and horses all received in heritage that beauty of the soul which Athenian education cultivated. Riders and horses have all learned that music which produces, in the language of Plato, the harmony of souls and the immutable order of the Universe.”

NOTE: Phidias is generally acknowledged to have been the greatest ancient Greek sculptor and instigator of the classical style of the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. He is thought to have directed and supervised the construction of the Parthenon including its sculptural decoration.

I Call Myself Stradivarius

I Call Myself Stradivarius

Image “Cream Colored Stallion” by Johann Georg Hamilton. (© 2020 Kip Mistral.)

I am a real horse, but I’ve changed my name here to protect the innocent…and not-so-innocent.

I call myself Stradivarius because I was created to be an instrument of the highest quality, for a human of the highest quality, one who would learn to understand and value the brilliance and complexity of my nature. The original string instruments of the master Antonio Stradivari were made in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and they were, as they are still, considered the finest in the world. The rare few remaining today, whether in museums or still being played, lie almost beyond price. Because of their age, their wood is in a slow state of decomposition and detachment in their fibers from centuries of vibrations from being played, and microscopic shrinkage from evaporation. Yet is it ironic that many of the top violinists feel the old instruments have, just because of these factors, an even richer and more expressive sound today than they did when they were born? No, I don’t think so.

Because in the same way, my family and those similar to us were created across the sea. For centuries we were nurtured and protected within traditions that had very specific goals for us. We were selected to be straight forward and workmanlike, and extremely strong to be able to perform great feats of athleticism even into old age. We were made to be very intelligent so as to be able to grasp the highest demands of training, so we are not simple. In fact, we are specialists. And we were given high expectation of respectful treatment, since we have been honored and cherished as jewels in the crowns of our native cultures for hundreds of years.

For our families, this expectation, I am sad to say, is disappointed often today. We can be passed from person to person, as I have been, persons who unfortunately wrongly assume that they could be a match for specialists such as we are. Such a person can break a whip on our body, as has been done to mine, but that will not give us the trust that will inspire us to be a stalwart partner and give our best, and our love. But with respect, fairness, patience, and compassion…we will become yours and keep getting richer, like a Stradivarius, with time.

I am still waiting patiently for that human of the highest quality, who I hope is on their way to me and may be right around the corner. I am waiting in the green field.