(Camins, Laura. “The Art of Equitation.” Glorious Horsemen: Equestrian Art in Europe, 1500 to 1800. Exhibition catalog published by the Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA, 1981. P. 44-45. Excerpt published with the permission of the Springfield Museums.) [Images added here did not accompany the original text. Feature image of La Guérinière by Louis Toque, circa 1750.]
With the accession of Louis XV to the French throne in 1715, François Robichon de La Guérinière was named Ecuyer Ordinaire by royal appointment, and founded a new academy for riding in Paris near the Palais de Luxembourg. In 1730, under the patronage of Charles de Lorraine, Comte d’Armagnac and Grand Ecuyer du Roi, La Guérinière moved his entire operation to the old Manège Royal of the Tuileries. The school in Paris thus coexisted with the Grand Ecurie du Roi at Versailles, directed by Louis Cazeau de Nestier from 1734. It was La Guérinière, however, who was the greatest innovator of the eighteenth century. Although [The Duke of] Newcastle’s teachings at first were generously received upon his return to England, as representing a new perfection of riding technique, they did not really develop in France. La Guérinière is thus the true heir to [Solomon] La Broue and [Antoine de] Pluvinel. His work represents the ultimate refinement of a technique.
(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.
(© Kip Mistral 2020. “The Bäckahäst“, artist unknown.)
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…especially if it’s a loch or pool in Scotland…
Unless you are a reader of Celtic or Scandinavian mythology, you wouldn’t for a moment suspect that the log or overturned boat you find innocently floating in a lake might suck you into the depths and eat you if you approach it. You might catch a glimpse of its baleful, phosphorescent stare, but probably you won’t have time to notice it looks like a black horse.
A black horse with a beautiful, gossamer mane that floats in the breeze and a tail that trails the ground, that on another occasion might prance up to you inviting you to ride, but once you have mounted, you can’t get off, and it plunges with you aboard into the nearest deep water and, well, you know the rest…
Or, being a shape-shifting water spirit, it can look like a human, tricking you to believe it friendly, like that person you thought was nice, and as you grow closer with the speed of a shark it will turn back into that black horse, who will drag you off to the pond and, you know…
I think we’re all a little cranky these days and this Nordic Bäckahäst looks how I feel, personally. And those of you with black horses, especially the ones with long manes and tails who look annoyed, you might be best to stay far away from lochs or pools…
(© Kip Mistral 2020. Painting by Alexander Pock 1940, Spanish Riding School Levade.)
When as a child I first read Marguerite Henry’s wonderful book about the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, titled “The White Stallion of Lipizza,” equally wonderfully illustrated by her creative partner Wesley Dennis, I was fascinated with the idea of a supremely orderly program of learning and teaching a venerable and highly cultivated horsemanship.
This was no haphazard affair like the way my friends and I learned to ride…we were told to get on, kick to go, pull back on the reins to stop and neck rein. Then off we tore with our kind-hearted and forbearing mounts, all asses and elbows for too long as we learned the hard way.
(© Kip Mistral 2019. “Fragments from the Writings of Max Ritter von Weyrother, Austrian Imperial and Royal Oberbereiter,” published by Xenophon Press, 2017. Images and quotations from within are used with permission of the publisher. Image detail from Courbette by Ludwig Koch 1866-1934)
Maximillian Ritter von Weyrother (1783–1833) was Chief Rider of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna from 1813, and Director from 1814 to 1833. And why should we care to read a book of his writing fragments, you might ask. Is he just one more riding master in the cavalcade of horses and riders through time who codified his personal embrace of equestrian art? The answer would be no.