Rapunzel Horses – the hot accessory of Early Modern Europe?

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I’ve been reading beautifully illustrated books about horses all my life and in the last twelve years I’ve trawled all sorts of academic articles and image libraries, so it’s always delightful to find an image I’ve never seen before. The Palazzo Pitti in Florence just opened an exhibit called Leopoldo de’ Medici: Prince of the Collectors to celebrate what would have been the cardinal’s 400th birthday. Someone shared this image of the young Leopoldo in a Facebook group for Lipizzaner fans, and I was smitten. The 1624-1625 painting is by Justus Sustermans, a Flemish court painter to the infamous Medici clan. Look at the detail: the flecks of foam on the paving under the horse’s mouth, the way it’s patiently resting one hind hoof. What I’d give for a huge poster of it!
But of course the really striking thing is that MANE. ALL OF IT. Has anyone written about the meaning (if any?) of the turnout of court horses in the Early Modern era? I’ve seen great articles on baroque bits and read about the costumes worn in carrousels, but do we know anything about this commitment to hair? It’s not mentioned in the rather beautiful part of Guerinière’s The School of Horsemanship that describes exotic coat colours and the significance of whorls (read an earlier post about that here). But it does feature in other images, like those in the Certamen Equestre (Gallica has a facsimile online for extended tea-break consideration and these screengrabs are sourced there):

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This book records a carrousel and procession that took place in Stockholm on 18 December 1672 to celebrate the coming of age of Karl XI at 17. It was illustrated by the court painter, David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl, and these plates were later engraved by Georg Christoph Eimmart in Nuremberg. Lena Rangström has written the most detailed account in volume II of Mulryne, Watanbe-O’Kelly and Shewring’s Europa Triumphans, a collection of studies of European court and civic festivals in the period.
Rangström describes the decking out of Stockholm with triumphal arches, tapestries, a firework display and even a wine fountain. The 560-strong procession, which included 100 nobles on horseback and 80 more horses led in hand, culminated at the tilt yard in the riding school at the Hay Market or Hötorget. It was meant to depict the young Karl as a force for unity in Europe against the Turk, and so he led the “Roman” quadrille, Field Marshall Gustaf Banér the “Turks” in their caftans, Count Bengt Oxenstierna led the “Poles” (see their “winged horses” below) and Privy Councillor Krister Horn was captain of the “European States” in modern dress. Here are images of the quadrilles:

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Karl as a Roman. Certamen Equestre, via Gallica.


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The “Turkish” horses in the Certamen Equestre, via Gallica. It looks as though all the Black grooms in Stockholm were drafted in to add extra “exotica” (oof).


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“Polish” horses, Certamen Equestre, via Gallica.


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“Europe” in the Certamen Equestre, via Gallica.

It was – of course – spectacular. “On knights and horses everything shimmered: gold, precious stones, and rich pearls,” says one account, and, “On the horses, one saw different ornaments on their heads, different ones on their feet, and different ones on the other parts of their bodies.” Pine branches hung from the ceiling and the riding school was lit by thousands of candles on hundreds of chandeliers against the dark Stockholm winter.
There was only one game – running at the ring – and the King won, for:

“None deserved it more, none knew how to control and turn his horse with such gentleness; nobody bore off the ring with such pleasing gestures and such grace of the whole body.”

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For other long-haired horses stories, I present the eighteenth century Swan of Arnstadt and a nineteenth-century freak, The Wild King of Oregon Wonder Horses.

What Will Happen at Greenwich Today?

UPDATE: EPONA TV’s  OLYMPIC WARM-UP ARENA FOOTAGE.

It’s the second day of dressage at the 2012 Olympics, and although the mainstream media has largely ignored the fact that the UK are currently in team gold and individual gold and silver positions thanks to Carl Hester and Laura Bechtolsheimer, they should pay as much attention to the overnight social media storm as they do to allegations of cheating in the Chinese team.

What’s happening?

Rollkur allegations.

What’s rollkur? A controversy that’s been brewing for years in the dressage world. It’s a form of training in which the horse’s head is hauled back “behind the vertical” so that its chin is pressed to its chest. It can damage the horse’s muscle and even bone and it also produces a stiff back that is counterproductive to good dressage. The practice has also been rewarded by dressage judges with plenty of points and prizes.

In 2010 the FEI ruled that rollkur was unacceptable, although “low deep and round”, was acceptable. This ruling was given shortly after a Swedish rider, Patrik Kittel, was filmed by Epona TV in the warm-up ring at Odense World Cup Dressage Qualifier, with his horse’s tongue lolling out of its mouth, apparently blue from lack of circulation – something commentators said was due to the fact that he was being forced into neck hyperflexion.

Yesterday the FEI, Eurodressage, Olympic and British Dressage Facebook sites were flooded by images of Patrick Kittel warming up a horse with its chin bent to its chest at Greenwich. Here and here. People want to know, what are the FEI and the Olympic authorities going to do about it?

There are calls to spectators at the park today to turn their backs or refuse to applaud when certain riders enter the ring. What if there are boos? What if people hold up signs? Whattya gonna do, FEI?

Apparently, this:

UPDATE with further photos here.

If Wishes Were Horses: Love

If you want to  learn more about Sven Forsling and the wonderful Frossarbo reform school for girls, there’s an eBook in English called The Girl and the Horse. The video above is in Swedish but features not just Sven but also the school and its horses.

This post relates to a chapter of the book If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of an Equine Obsession. If you have any questions to ask about the content, please fire away in the comments. The main online index for the book is here.