Where Are the Chevaux?

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I just returned from a two-week trip to Normandy and Paris where I barely glimpsed a live horse. I did see a LOT of wonderful art. In fact, that was probably the theme of the trip. But, I learned that Impressionists and Post-Impressionists like Monet and Van Gogh wouldn’t satisfy my cravings for horsey paintings, so I started seeking out Classicists and Romantics.

I enjoyed studying the detail in this Meissonier painting.

I enjoyed studying the detail in this Meissonier painting.

“Hmm,” I thought, as I got up close to Meissonier’s famous painting of Napoleon, “that stirrup base is round. I wonder if that was typical of military stirrups, maybe to give a better base of support.” I certainly wasn’t going to get that kind of detail from Renoir. Okay, so maybe I did carry this horsey obsession a bit far, but when I needed a fix, I slipped over to Delacroix.

The closest I got to horses was a lot of statues (“Joanie on a pony,” as per our guide, referring to France’s heroine and patron saint) and some spotted Norman cows that I fancied as sort of bovine Appaloosas. At least my homing instincts stayed true: As we turned off the highway toward Versailles, I saw the outside of what I thought might be a dressage facility. I asked our guide if she knew about it. “That’s a well-known dressage training center,” she said. Wowee, I was right! And, of course, I was amazed that a civilian would toss out the “d” word so casually, but that’s Europe.

A few minutes later, she was pointing out the stables at Versailles, two enormous U-shaped buildings, one for carriage horses and one for riding horses. She said the one for the riding horses was now the site of a “dressage show.” Wowee! We didn’t have time to get anywhere near it, so I Googled it on my cell during the ride back to Paris: It’s now the location of the Equestrian Arts Academy, created by Bartabas, who also founded the Zingaro show that has toured the U.S.

That was the total whiff of dressage I got in France. I basically ate my way through Normandy (is it possible to have a bad meal in France?), learned a lot of history, saw amazing cathedrals and got up close and personal to art masterpieces. But, thank goodness for Delacroix.

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