We have another contribution from globe-trotting equestrian and author Christine Meunier, photos and her observations from her visit to this museum dedicated to our favorite animal. I took the liberty of adding some history and, very important, movie trivia.
Located in the area of Chantilly, France, lies an establishment that encourages the equine lover to dream.
The Musée Vivant du Cheval, aka The Living Museum of the Horse, is worth the visit for anyone in the area.
According to the legend, Prince Louis-Henri de Bourbon, the seventh prince of Condé and Prime Minister of Louis XV from 1723 to 1726, believed he’d be reincarnated as a horse and commissioned the construction of the Grand Stables as a future home befitting his royal title on the grounds of his Chantilly estate. Construction began in 1719.
When fully operational, Les Grandes Écuries, aka the Grand Stables, housed 240 horses and 150 dogs for the hunts, according to the museum’s website’s history page.
Longtime fans of Bond films may find the Baroque facility familiar. Roger Moore’s 007 verbally sparred with the villainous Max Zorin, portrayed by Christopher Walken, in the Grand Stables in early scenes in “A View to a Kill” (1985). Walken’s character even mentions the legend of the prince with a plan in dialogue. The stables also appeared in “Sade” (2000) and “Valmont” (1989).
Toward the end of the millennium, the stables-turned-museum showed signs of neglect and disrepair. Enter the fourth Aga Khan, who largely funded a $3.3 million refurbishment to both the Grand Stables and the nearby racecourse to re-position Chantilly as an equestrian tourism destination. The museum renovation celebrated a grand re-opening in summer of 2013.
As you enter the museum, open stalls display varying breeds of horses in the flesh. Visitors moving into another room may then sit and watch training sessions, including a demonstration of how the horses are schooled. Afterward, visitors may move on to explore the other rooms in what was once a castle for a prince.
The rooms today now each focus on a different aspect of devotion to this four-legged species. Traveling between them offers visitors the chance to see paintings, poems, figurines and models of mystical creatures in equine form, such as the pegasus and centaur.
Another room features life-size horses on display, clothed and tacked up for varying disciplines. Text is beside each figure, identifying what is worn by the horse and its rider (if there is one) and the equestrian discipline in question. Horses are set up for dressage, with Cossack riders, as show or circus horses and much more.
For those interested in anatomy and physiology, another room looks at the horse’s muscular and skeletal systems and even has on display life size representations of components of the horse’s digestive tract.
If ever you’re in the vicinity of Chantilly, perhaps a day at the racetrack with a visit to the Living Museum of the Horse should be on the list of things to do.
Christine has worked at thoroughbred stud farms and taught at riding academies in East Victoria, Australia. She also did an internship at Irish National Stud, as described in her travel article for us. But that’s not all. She traveled to South Africa for serious saddle time on trail and endurance horses, too. Currently, she’s back in Australia teaching equine studies with an emphasis on horse breeding at the National Centre for Equine Education, a division of TAFE, a vocational school in Victoria, Australia. She also blogs about careers with horses, especially in Australia, at Equus-blog.
Her novel HORSE COUNTRY: A WORLD OF HORSES tells the story of young women working in various aspects of the equestrian world. Learn more about her novel and places to buy the book, available in both digital and paper editions, at her website HorseCountryBook.com.