[© 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…
(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.
(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.”