Empress Maria Theresa discouraged Marie Antoinette's developing interest in riding from the beginning. Letters from Austria admonished her for riding and for hiding that fact that she was riding. The Empress didn't want the Dauphine to ruin her figure nor, more importantly, all importantly, she didn't want a fall to prevent a potential pregnancy or harm an actual one. Marie Antoinette explained to her mother that her husband, the Dauphin, and his grandfather, the King, encouraged her to ride. It was one of the few interests that she and her new husband had in common. Not that she could keep up with him. Riding and hunting were the two most widely accepted pastimes that he liked and did well.
At first, Marie Antoinette was satisfied with riding donkeys. Soon, donkeys didn't measure up well against the hundreds of horses that were at her disposal. Who can blame her for wanting to upgrade? One day, she went out on a donkey and met a groom at a pre-arranged location in the forest and switched to a horse. She got more adventurous, followed the hunt at a distance, rode more often and had a couple of falls to explain away to her mother.
Young Marie Antoinette, fetching in her riding habit
The forests surrounding the Chateau de Fontainebleau were a favorite hunting spot for generations of French kings. This hunting party, hosted by Louis XIV, galloped in the forests and fields close to a hundred years before Louis XVI and his contemporaries.
Villagers mocked unpopular Louis XV by imitating his familiar cry of "Tally Ho!" as they watched a speedy carriage carrying his smallpox ravaged body to its resting place in St. Denis.
~ A small section of the Chateau de Fontainebleau ~