Equestrian cultures in France during the 19th and 20th centuries

How did the relationship between man and horse develop from one century to the next? Such is the subject matter of our studies.
Going from a horse-drawn society to a mechanical one almost made us forget the ancestral usages of horses (army, transport and agriculture) and their functions – symbolic (royal and military status, aristocratic sport) and cultural (riding styles, carriages). Horses also left their mark on sport through the creation of one of the oldest competitions, the Jockey-Club Prize (1836) and the history of cities with their racecourses.

We favoured several research paths:
  • the places expressing a specific usage: barracks, stud farms, stables, road network, riding clubs, racecourses, etc.;
  • the changes in structures and townscapes deriving from the building of racecourses;
  • the occupations related to horses;
  • riding or harnessing styles;
  • teaching and competitions (progress, standards of assessment, diplomas, grading systems, etc.).

[NB: We also investigated the path of comparative History through the study of the influence of horse culture in Brazil as their Jockey-Club and racecourses were inspired by the French model.]

Publication :
  • Blay JP., 2010, « Compiègne et le cheval, transports, armée, loisirs » (1852-1918), Atlantica, 2010.

Varieties of equestrian cultures and their impact on economic development

Through the study of the effects on the environment (especially in towns with racecourses), we have brought to light the varieties of equestrian cultures and their impact on economic development. The first part of this study was the object of a presentation within the framework of the UNESCO University and Heritage Forum dedicated to “the integrity of historical townscapes” (Hanoi, 2009) where we defended the idea of including sports buildings into the architectural heritage and more specifically racecourses.
Our studies have demonstrated that racecourses were the very first sports infrastructures in Europe and Latin America. These places have also been used as experimental fields for other sports. Football players, rugby players and athletes from Parisian clubs (Racing Club de France, Stade Français, 1883) started playing there dressed as jockeys! Aviation was born there with Santos-Dumont in 1906. The renewal of uses and, more importantly, the popular support for horse racing have contributed to the sustainability of these places of entertainment in the city.

Therefore it is acceptable to study the following subjects of the past century and in several countries:
  •  the modes of articulation between metropolitan territories, economic growth and integration of sports infrastructures through an investigation of urban policies;
  • the capacities for social and political mobilisation in a metropolitan territory;
  • the references mobilised by the actors – of a technical, cultural or administrative order or pertaining to actual experience – to explain the final decisions;
  • the physical, visual and functional integrity of the townscapes intended for sport with regard to the environment.

  • Blay JP., 2011, « Patrimoine architectural et culture équestre, moteurs du développement économique, touristique et durable. Etude comparée de Chantilly et Compiègne. », XVIIe Symposium scientifique de l’ICOMOS, Paris (UNESCO)

Committed to the Paris ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), we ensure the development of a project regarding historical research and promotion of heritage entitled “Sports architectural heritage and sustainability” in conformity with the directives of the ICOMOS general assembly held in March 2012: “Spreading the notion of heritage and developing ICOMOS projects around the world”.

At a second stage, we intend to widen this study to other types of sports architecture. From racecourses (classified as Historical Monuments like Chantilly or Longchamp and representing sustained places creating a link between townspeople and nature through horses) to stadiums presenting stylized and dated architectures (Roland Garros, Wimbledon) and those with bold architecture (Maracaña, Stade de France, Beijing Olympic stadium), townscapes dedicated to sports practice and events are a fundamental and integrating part of the environment of the communities living there and the expression of the cultural diversity resulting from a permanent and continuous process of cultural stratification related to sport. The point will be to assess the sports territory in its social and cultural function.
These studies have given rise to a research project regarding sports architecture.

Development of equestrian culture and the French language in Brazil

In collaboration with the cultural services of the general Consulate of France in Rio de Janeiro (Mrs Marion Loire, attaché to the promotion of Books and manager of the media library), the National Library of Brazil (Mrs Angela Bettencourt, responsible for the digital library programme) and the BnF (Mrs Régine Piersanti, coordinator of the “portail França no Brasil” programme), we made an inventory of a corpus of rare books in French related to the equestrian culture (17th-19th centuries) and located at the Brazilian Jockey-Club Library in Rio de Janeiro. Our inventory (along with descriptive cards) is meant to be digitalized onto a database. This project is part of a wider campaign to promote the French language, initiated by the Secretary of Sports of the State of Rio de Janeiro in the perspective of the 2016 Olympic Games.

Updated on 17 décembre 2014