Louis XIV commissioned the building of La Grande Écurie at Versailles to house his carousel, which was a unique blending of dance, dressage and fencing, and singing. Constructed to accommodate more than 2,000 horses, builders built the stables from 1679 to 1682. The grounds soon became one of the symbols of European absolutism with kings and queens from around the world being treated to spectacular performances. While many visitors today are familiar with the show stables and the beautiful gardens, many do not realize that hand-picked students who are fluent in France still attend this school today, where they receive training in dance, riding, fencing, and singing.
The school known as the National Equestrian Academy of the Estate of Versailles was formed in 2003. Bartabas, who designed this exceptional program after working at the La Grande Écurie for more than a decade, says that he wants it to be a place where beautiful people bloom. Students who must be fluent in the French language receive instruction regularly in incorporating dance, stage fencing, voice training, traditional Japanese archery, and dressage. Bartabas says that he wants the students to learn how to create a supplier body by connecting physical movement with proper thought.
Students are encouraged to see themselves as part of a community where they may spend many years. Programs are often given that resemble the original carousels given by King Louis XIV. While there is no written curriculum or diplomas delivered, students learn the unique connection between body and mind.
Students must pass a rigorous background check to become part of this unique program. They must already own a horse and be competent in dressage. At a minimum, they must pass the Gallop Level 7 test, which is the highest level of dressage tested by the National French Federation. They must prove that they have classical training in long reins and working a horse in hand. They also must show that they have been introduced to signing, fencing, or another program that is part of the training at the National Equestrian Academy of the Estate of Versailles. Each student’s application that is considered in the spring for fall admittance must include a video of them riding their horse, a resume, and a photo of them on their horse. The best applicants are chosen to attend the training that happens four days a week for a year. Once accepted, students must pay a fee to participate in the program.
Even the horses at the school are routinely trained to work their muscles in the proper ways. The horses learn to integrate their breathing and movements allowing them to work with their riders to present the beautiful shows seen at Versailles and throughout the country.
While visitors to Versailles often see the beautiful horse shows held by the graduates, very few people are familiar with the training school that happens in the stable that was constructed during the 1600s.