(Reprinted from ‘La Revue des Amis du Cadre Noir’ (Issue No. 89, 2016) with the permission of author Frédéric Magnin and the permission of M. Ludovic de Villèle, President of the Association Les Amis du Cadre Noir de Saumur. My deep gratitude for the opportunity to share this wonderful piece.)
Today it would seem that the history of French equitation can be written without mentioning Dupaty de Clam. Yet such an omission was unthinkable a short time ago, so great an influence did this “Ecuyer of the Enlightenment” have on equitation in parts of Europe right up to the 20th century. At times accused of being “a chamber écuyer”, at others considered to be one of our best equestrian writers, recognized in any event as “the first to write about Equitation, according to the principles of Physics”; put simply, he was “a thinking écuyer.”
(© 2019 Kip Mistral. Short film by Michel Kaplan, Beau Geste S.O.A.R. & On Tape Productions, 1994. With permission by the Kaplan family and Catherine Durand Henriquet. Photograph by Frédéric Chéhu.)
One day in France, long ago, a little film was made in a big hurry. Plans had been made to do the shooting for the film at the gardens of the nearby Château de Maisons-Lafitte, between Versailles and Paris, but before that could be scheduled, one of the two equine stars of the show (the Lusitano stallions Spartacus and Orphée) was being called away. Since Orphée had regained his status of 2nd French Dressage Horse and Free Style Champion, his breeders were claiming him to return to Portugal to do his job as a sire.
(Extract from “Recollections of a Page at the Court of Louis XVI: Chapter, The Pages,” by Charles-Alexandre-François-Felix, Comte de France de Hézecques, Baron de Mailly. (Author Hézecques born 7-30-1774, died August 1835.) Originally written 1804. Edited, from the French, by Charlotte M. Yonge, 1873)
[NOTE from K.M. What was life really like for a young aristocrat serving as a page to the King of France and taking early life lessons from the paramilitary organization of the Grand Stable? From 1784, from the age of 12 through the age of 18, this young Count served his King…read on for a very interesting story.]
“The imagination always recurs with delight to the happy days of youth. In the thorny paths of life, a moment of sweet satisfaction is often felt in turning the thoughts to these peaceful years of tender age when the only sorrow was to be thwarted in some little project, when privations were so short, and tears so soon forgotten.”
In 1731, François Robichon de La Guérinière was complaining in his book “School of Horsemanship”, Chapter I “Why There Are So Few Horsemen & the Qualities Necessary to Become One”. Nearly 300 years later, we are asking the same questions! Here, his initial comments:
“All arts and sciences have principles and rules governing the methods resulting in those discoveries that lead to their perfection. The Cavalry [School of Horsemanship] is the only art for which it seems there is only need of practice; however, the practice, stripped of sound principles, is nothing more than routine that only results in a forced and uncertain performance and a false brilliance that fascinates the demo-connoisseurs, who are often amazed by the horse’s kindness, rather than by the rider’s skill. This is the reason for the small number of well-trained horses and the lack of ability presently seen in the majority of those people who call themselves horsemen.”
(© Paul Belasik, from “The Songs of Horses,” first published 1999. Reprinted with permission of the author and The Crowood Press. “Louis XV hunting deer in the forest of Saint Germain” by Jean-Baptiste Oudry. This story was inspired by the 18th century écuyer to King Louis XV, Louis Cazeau de Nestier, also called The Grand Silence. It is said that the rider on the grey horse on the left side of this painting is Nestier.)
Somewhere in the countryside near Paris, 1735…
It is ironic to say that I had heard of his great horsemanship, since he was known as the Grand Silence. I had seen him hunting near Paris, where I once had lived. I have to say that I thought of him then more as the Great Arrogance or the Great Pomposity. It was through the following twist of fate that I met him.