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.
(Poem by Virgil Suárez, Professor Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Image detail from painting that may be by John Rowe.)
It was raven black, of shiny mane, and the people
said the floods brought him in, burst
through the heavy aspen doors like a cloud
of rubber tire black smoke, into the church
on the hill, kicking over the pews, froth in its mouth,
like the anger of a thousand years, as it paced up
and down the aisles, some demon-like sentinel,
whatever got in its path, it muzzled over, like the votive
candle holders, the flower pedestals, even the frail
confessionals. The priest called the sheriff, and soon all
[© 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.
[© 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.
(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.