Friday, May 30, 2014

Dirty Race Track Money

There's not a single Eighteenth Century horse race image among the 18,000 pictures on my computer nor could I find one online.  So, Le Marché aux Chevaux (The Horse Market by Rosa Bonheur) will have to represent the horse racing craze that overtook the French aristocracy during Marie Antoinette's, let's call it, "flighty," phase.  (That word choice would play better were I writing about the hot air balloon craze that took flight during the Louis XVI's reign. Oh, the possibilities...  I could use "rein" instead of "reign" to link back to the horse theme!)   The governments of France and England weren't particularly friendly, but the men and women of their respective courts didn't let politics stand in the way of a good time and mixed pretty freely. The French were quite caught up with adopting English trends, and past times including horse racing.  I'll let the Austrian Ambassador, Comte de Mercy-Argenteau, describe the race track scene.  He did not approve.  

In his private private letters to Marie Antoinette's mother, Marie Thérêse, (not to be confused with his merely private letters of which Marie Antoinette was aware), Mercy kept the Austrian Empress informed of every move her daughter made at the Court of France.  Nothing was too personal, no source left untapped.  Her weight, hygiene, sex life, menstrual cycle, horseback riding, spending, hairstyles, gambling, parties, friends, enemies - all fair game.  Mercy kept a close eye on Marie Antoinette, paid members of her household to spy, and pretended to be the supportive confidant of his naive young charge in order to gather details that he promptly sent by courier to her mother.  The poor girl couldn't figure out how in the world her mother knew so much about which she could find fault and chastise in her letters.

Anyway, back to horse racing.:

According to the notes in Volume II of the letters between Mercy and Marie Thérêse, Mercy felt "unutterable disgust" for the race scene.  The editor of the collection of letters made the observation that "French vices hitherto had, at least, the glamour of most perfect courtesy;  there might be no righteous man in all France, but there was always manner;  and a gentleman would ruin himself, his neighbour, or his neighbour's wife, with a delicate grace.  But now, swindlery and blackguardism have stretched hands across the Channel and saluted mutually."

Mercy wrote to the Empress...

"The horse-races were very deplorable events, and, I even dare to say it, unseemly, as the Queen was present....  I went up into the pavilion, where I found a great table spread with a simple collation, which was being positively pillaged by a mob of young men improperly dressed, making such a clamor and a noise, that one could not hear oneself speak....  the Comte d'Artois [Louis XVI's brother]... running up and down the stairs, abandoning himself to pitiful exultation when he won, flinging himself into the crowd of people to cheer his postilions...."

Mercy describes the surroundings.  The racecourse near Fontainebleau;  a wooden stand, of which the upper story was a large room, encircled by a gallery, where the Queen and her suite watched the races. Men arrived on horseback, "for the most part dressed in a négligé scarcely decent;" with everyone permitted to go up to the room where the Queen remained.  They made their bets there, and "they were never arranged without many arguments, and much noise and tumult.  The Comte d'Artois risked very considerable sums, and was much annoyed to lose, "which he nearly always does."  Highly unsuitable behavior for young royals.

For different reasons, I share Mercy's disapproval of horse racing.  The bottom line is horses like to run, but they don't like to run as fast as they possibly can and for longer than is normal equine behavior.  I googled "PETA horse racing," looking for a cleverly phrased PETA quote I'd once read and the images that came up made me sorry I did.  Take my word for it, the entertainment value of horse racing isn't worth the cost.

Summer 2003
Micah and Liberty - Day One 
The picture belies the actual crazy that lies beneath her deceptively calm exterior.  That sentence applies to both horse and rider, but I'm specifically referring to Liberty right now.   The  highly held tail, prancing walk, and alert facial expression only hint what at was going on during this first ever ride after we bought our very own ex-racehorse for fifteen-year-old Micah.  Seconds after I took the picture, Liberty, literally, frantically, tried to climb the rails along which she pranced.

Last Week
Micah and Liberty - Day Four Thousand (approx.)

Look, now she's calm enough remain laying while being hugged.  It only took about eleven years.  Under saddle, either all her racetrack training or her training-induced emotional problems rear up and she's an unstable mess.  But, she's our mess and we love her.  Technically, she's Courtney's mess, but we love her like she's ours.  Maybe Liberty's just a crazy Thoroughbred and I can't blame racing at all.  Her ground manners are impeccable.  Even the manners obsessed Comte Mercy-Argenteau couldn't find cause for complaint there.

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