Built between 1719 and 1735 by Louis Henri de Bourbon, the 7thPrince of Condé, La Grande Écurie is the largest stable in Europe. Associated with the Château de Chantilly, the facility provided housing for the multitude of horses that each member of the aristocracy kept because it was a basic expectation of their rank, that they be able to put on a hunting expedition whenever the king decided to drop by.
The stable houses Le Musée de Cheval, a very well designed and executed tribute to the horse. We were really spoiled by the last two museums in Portugal, and this one continued the winning streak. You enter through one of the main stable doors into an actual working facility full of horses. , right up the barn row .An interesting bunch – a Friesian, a Lusitano or two, some PREs, several Shetland Ponies, a couple of minis and even 3 burros. As it turned out, this bunch was the cast for the show they put on later in the afternoon. From there you travel through 15 well-appointed rooms, housed in the old stables, filled with displays and multi-media depicting the human interaction with equines from antiquity to the modern. A very nice collection well-presented and highly interactive. We were lucky as it turns out because after our walk from the Chantilly station we chose to stop first here rather than go on to the much more famous chateau. Since it was only 12:00, and the show was not until 2:30, most people make their visit in the other order. The result – we had it all to ourselves.
My favorite room came just at the end – a collection of carousel horses, nicely displayed in two groups and accompanied by the zither rendition of the “Theme from the Third Man.”
We had some time to kill so we had a nice little quiche in the museum café and then sat and watched some horses being worked in an arena just outside the museum. Framed by the huge buff limestone walls and backed up by two enormous bronze horse heads, it created a nice tableau in which to watch the horses going around and around.
The show began promptly at 2:30, and we were shuffled into an auditorium built inside one of the original towers. A nice job of shoe-horning modern seating into an 18th century building. All the old decorations remained, tribute to the countless animals killed on the property during the grand hunts. A small riding ring at the center, and a little nook off to one side for the musicians. Before the show began, three young women rode in on horseback carrying signs – No Photos, No Video, No Phones. A simple but elegant solution to trying to cover every single language represented in the room.
The show lasted 1:20. Each of the horses we had seen in the stable participated in a variety of short demonstrations. Riding, working in hand, working on the line and working free. The best two acts were the three burros doing a routine with a handler, and one skit involving a Mini and a Welsh Pony doing dressage airs. Seeing a Mini doing leaps in the style of a Lipizzan warmed our hearts, a future challenge for MLW’s Mini-training program. Adding some flavor were a couple of demonstrations by an acrobat which gave the whole thing a Cirque du Soleil air. It was a fun show, and the audience loved it.
Now nearing 4PM, we had a choice to make – call it a day and start the long walk back to town or continue to the chateau knowing we would almost certainly not be back this way. Trains were not a problem, running every half hour until 6PM and then every hour thereafter. We opted for the latter and figured we could still make a 5:30 departure.
On to the chateau!