The Bienaimés living horses

 

A (French)

 

love story

 

 

For over thirty years the Bienaimé family has infused a new life into the historic stables of Chantilly. Their highlight is their illustrious horse shows which started at Christmas time..

 

By Camilla Alfthan, photos by Pascal Renauldon and CRP Photopresse.

 

It’s in a magic place under the domed ceiling of Chantilly’s Great Stables that the equestrian shows are taking place.

The atmosphere is intimate and the scent of sawdust is unmistakable as the perfectly groomed horses and their female riders fly by with  the poetic backdrop of ornamented  sandstone walls and a couple of chiseled stags.

The stables were built in 1719 by Louis Henri – Prince of Condé, Duke of Bourbon and France’s prime minister – whose idea was to match the grandeur of Chantilly’s castle which, among many other things, includes the magnificent gardens of André Le Nôtre.

Though the castle has since lost its original purpose as a place for the elite to go hunting, the estate itself has remained intact thanks to its last private owner, the Duke of Aumale.

In his will of 1884 the duke had bequeathed the entire property to the Institute of France including the chateau with the impressive art collection he had collected there, so that it would become a public museum.

When the riding master, Yves Bienaimé started his career at the stables in 1959, he gradually began to realize the neglect of the still-impressive buildings. He decided he would do what he could to bring back some of the former glory of the stables.

In the summer of 1982, after four years of negotiations with the Institute over the concession, Yves and his wife, Annabel Bienaimé opened the Living Museum of the Horse and moved into the romantic kitchen gardens of the castle where there’s also a theatre. The rest is history.

The Living Museum of the horse has become world famous as its shows. When  the Bienaimés a few years ago sold the museum to the foundation which preserves and develops the domaine of Chantilly and which is presided by the Prince Aga Khan, they kept Sophie as their equestrian and artistic director.

 

What is your first equestrian memory ? 

When I was four riding Argade, my first horse. My parents taught me to ride with a lounge.  And after that I had my Shetland pony, Moustique and my formidable mare, New Forest Princesse.

 

What was your best equestrian lesson? 

On the scene to smile even if there is a problem. The audience already see that you have a problem with your horse. They don’t want to see it twice. Once with the horse, once on your face !

 

What is the best thing about living next to the Great Stables?

Those stables have a real soul. I love the Dome and I have a real passion for this special place. Usually I say : My dome” even it’s not true of course but it’s put a spell on me. You can’t have more beautiful place to present a horse show. And we have the forest. And you can’t imagine how the forest gives you energy. When you are tired, you go with your horse. You come back with a new energy and you thank the forest.

 

How did the idea to create the shows happen? 

My parents started them. The Great Stables were not easy to support financially in the winter. Not a lot of visitors were coming and it was a problem to pay everybody. My father had the idea to create a Christmas show. It changed the life of this place.

The first year we received 14,000 spectators  – usually it was just 2,000 during this period. It helped us to support all the winter months.

 

 

“Those stables have a real soul. I love the Dome and I have a real passion for this special place. Usually I say : “My dome”, even it’s not true, of course, but it’s put a spell on me.”

 

Afterwards, my parents created a horse show for society events. When they realized that it was a success, they had the idea to continue for our visitors with public shows.

It’s also been a question of pleasure, because everybody in the family was happy to discover this new job : doing horse shows ! Then we learned how to be on a stage, how to train the horses, how to present them and it became a passion for my father, and my little sister Virginie who is now an actress and directing our show and for me, of course.

 

When did you get involved? 

When I was 17 years old. Quickly it became my life.

 

Sophie Bienaimé et Vega Photopresse

 

Sophie Bienaimé with Vega in the historic manège of the Great Stables

 

A preview of Virginie Bienaimé’s latest show, “The Beauty and the Beast” by courtesy of one of its riders; Elodie Jacquet :

 

 

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