[“The Stables Viewed from the Forecourt of the Château de Versailles,” by Jean Baptiste Martin 1688, Grande Ecurie on the left of the two stables]
‘One must agree that if the true principles of the art had not been maintained, with a certain austerity in the royal riding school in Versailles, if they had not been constantly practiced, someday one might be hard pressed to find a way to renew the principles.’ ~ Charles Prosper Claude Chevalier le Vaillant de Saint Denis (1753-1790) Ecuyer du Roi
Wandering through this lovely, pale gold city, up the broad tree-lined Avenue de Paris toward the Château de Versailles, would seduce all but the most hardened traveler to dream of times long past. As the Château’s magnificent edifice comes into view and its buildings seem to go on and on, one can’t help but remember that, designed and created as it was by the finest thinkers and artists of their time to perpetuate knowledge and beauty, the highest cultural values embodied in European civilization at the time were showcased at the Château de Versailles.
In the same way the Manège du Grande Ecurie du Château de Versailles (the Riding School of the Great Stable) came to influence the fine equitation of its age. The stately Grande Ecurie, built with soaring, harmonious proportion and exquisite ornamentation, was constructed in 1683 by Louis XIV to celebrate his passion for elaborate equestrian performances, and to stable the most superb horses in the world.
[“30 Years With Master Nuno Oliveira: Correspondence, Photographs, and Notes” Chronicled by Michel Henriquet. Translated by Hilda Nelson. Published by Xenophon Press LLC 2011]
This remarkable book will be of great interest to anyone following the work of Master Nuno Oliveira, its author French écuyer Michel Henriquet, and the subjects of classical training of the highest level and equitation history in general.
[© 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.
I was taught this riding-a-square exercise on my young horse at the walk 30 years ago by the assistant instructor of Roy Yates, student of Charles O. Williamson, author of the classic book “Breaking and Training the Stock Horse (and Teaching Basic Principles of Dressage)”. For more information about this lineage please see https://www.kipmistral.com/charles-owen-williamson-on-collection-from-range-bred-broncs-to-high-school-dressage/
In these days I had no idea that the exercise was connected to the French classical masters and ultimately to the work of François Robichon de La Guérinière. Nevertheless I was impressed at the time and have been impressed since that horses seem to immediately enjoy this exercise that is quiet at the walk, and gives them a chance to refine their focus to the aids, learning to smoothly turn the shoulders and cross over to the inside, and become more precise in their movements. It is…