The Foundation for Classical Horsemanship
A 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization
“One must agree that if the true principles of the art had not been maintained with a certain austerity in the royal riding schools in Versailles, if they had not been constantly practiced, someday one might be hard pressed to find the ways to renew these principles.”
Charles Prosper, Chevalier le Vaillant de Saint Denis, 1789
So states a French riding master over two hundred years ago, writing about France’s glorious School of Versailles, which some have called the Golden Age of Equitation. Indeed, one of its most famous exponents, Louis Cazeau de Nestier, écuyer to the French King Louis XV, is still referred to as a standard of mastery today. He is shown above (top right image) on his magnificent Spanish stallion in the eighteenth-century print recently selected as the logo of The Foundation for Classical Horsemanship.
Pas de Trois performed on three Lusitanos by the riders of The Foundation for Classical Horsemanship during the 2009 Classical Symposium. From left to right are Holly Hansen on Urrante, Lorna Russell on Loxley, and Sandy Cooper on Nuncio. Photos from their exhibition appear on this page and the Event Gallery pages.
In such a climate was formed The Foundation for Classical Horsemanship, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) educational and charitable institution based in the United States to uphold, teach and promote the equestrian art of humane classical equitation.
The Foundation was conceived by a group of classical dressage instructors and trainers in a cooperative effort to preserve classical teachings which are in danger of being lost with the deaths of the great twentieth-century masters of the art. Its current president is Holly Hansen, the founding board member and guardian angel who worked tirelessly to set up the organization as a tax-deductible charitable corporation with the IRS and also organized the Foundation’s first two classical symposiums held in Fort Worth, TX.
Generously sponsored by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, the symposiums have offered a sharing of knowledge free of charge to those attending, perhaps unprecedented in our modern commercial horse world. Classical trainers from around the country donate their time and expertise to help make the lectures and demonstrations a fabulous reality for several hundred attendees, as do many other equine professionals who also donate their services.
“For us, the important thing is to protect and preserve the true nature of the horse,” emphasized President Hansen in a recent television interview. “It’s not about our ego, it’s not about our ability to win a blue ribbon or gain more points, it’s about protecting and preserving something that is beautiful and precious because we’ve developed a relationship with another living creature and we are the stewards of that creature. So for me classical horsemanship is timeless, it is something of beauty, it is never anything that is rushed or caused from force.”
In an age when many question the practicality of such ideals, the Foundation is attracting a dedicated group of professionals and amateurs alike who truly demonstrate these principles are alive and well today.
“Classical dressage teaches complete harmony between horse and rider,” asserts the Foundation. “The message of the classical school is that while your mind and body are being trained, always one must listen with the heart. Sensitivity as well as technique is essential. In addition, this classical philosophy develops a more humble, patient, sensitive and respectful human being. In time, this philosophy permeates all aspects of one’s life.”
In 2008, the year it was formed, the Foundation offered its first annual classical symposium. In 2009, the year it received its tax-exempt status from the IRS, in addition to its second classical symposium, the Foundation sponsored a clinic for The Foundation for the Pure Spanish Horse and an exhibition and clinic for The International Andalusian and Lusitano Horse Association at their national show.
In 2010, as nonprofits everywhere felt the financial pressures of the recession, they concentrated on fundraising, clinics, and developing the website, which will soon offer an extensive library of archived lectures, articles, DVDs, book and other reviews, along with additional networking opportunities.
Finally, in 2011, they began relocating the Foundation's headquarters from Texas to the foothills of North Carolina and planning the next classical symposium for 2012.
If you are intrigued by The Foundation for Classical Horsemanship and would like to help make its goals a reality, they would like to hear from you. Donations are tax-deductible and always appreciated, whether you would like to help sponsor future symposiums or clinics or prefer to help sponsor one of the schoolmasters whose job it is to teach the next generation of classical riders, trainers and instructors. As always, the dream remains for the endowment of a permanent facility of its own where the Foundation can carry on its work in perpetuity.
About the Icon: Greek horses and riders shown during the time of Xenophon, the Greek general (circa 400 B.C.) who wrote one of the first treatises on horsemanship. (From the Parthenon frieze, courtesy Trustees of the British Museum.)
About the Art: Monsieur de Nestier, riding master to King Louis XV of France, from the famous 18th century print selected as the logo for the Foundation. For more information on the artwork and why we chose this image, go to Issue 1 of The Classical Review.
Almost a century and a half later, we read: “The FEI instituted an International Dressage Event in 1929 in order to preserve the Equestrian Art from the abuses to which it can be exposed and to preserve it in the purity of its principles, so that it could be handed on intact to generations of athletes to come” (Article 419, Object of International Dressage Events, p.28).
Now fast-forward to 2011, where the schism in the equestrian community continues as the rollkur debate rages on and critics wonder whether competitive dressage has irrevocably lost its way, blatantly disregarding its own rules and rewarding negative tension, impure gaits, and all those abuses the original founders of the FEI so decried.
Training demonstrations show work with young horses, including longeing and work in hand, as well as more advanced horses under saddle, in hand, and on long reins. Problems and strengths of each horse are emphasized as the training program unfolds.
In keeping with the Foundation’s belief that classical horsemanship is a holistic endeavor which must take into account the horse’s complete mental and physical well-being, practitioners from many different areas have been invited to share their knowledge. Lectures from experts in fields ranging from saddle fitting to equine nutrition and chiropractic, from the history of classical equitation to modern bodywork and conditioning for riders, including classical training for competitive riders, have been taped and archived and will be available soon through the website.
A shared belief in this philosophy unites the founding board members and also the advisory board, all successful instructors from around the country who come together periodically to share knowledge and ideas. (For more information, click on the links at the bottom of the page.)
The idea of a network of classically minded instructors is one of the Foundation’s strengths, according to another founding board member and the current vice president, Stephanie Millham. “During our first symposium, we realized that all the board members were students of some of the great classical teachers who have died in the last few decades, and we all commented about the need to carry on their legacy. So we dedicated our first symposium to their memory, and that’s what we’re now attempting to do.”
Noting that the great classical schools in both Spain and Portugal began with a few friends and colleagues, “that’s our dream,” she continues. “We have the experienced instructors, the trainers and the young horses to bring along for the future.”
But such lofty goals require considerable financial support. To continue its work and expand its outreach the Foundation relies not only on the donation of the time and expertise of its instructors but donated schoolmasters, facilities and sponsorships as well.
Sandy Cooper shares a light-hearted moment with Nuncio following their performance in the Pas de Trois. The Foundation's signature uniform, with its distinctive blending of the 18th century velvet brocaded frock coat and the modern tailcoat, signifies respect for tradition along with the harmonious combination of past traditions with exemplary progress.