For five centuries, the prestigious Black frame of Saumur perpetuates a French tradition of equestrian art. Originally an equestrian military academy, the school lost its primary vocation at the end of the two world wars. Having become a civilian, she joined the French Institute of Horse and Riding. In 2011, Unesco consecrated the equestrian art of the Cadre Noir de Saumur by making it part of the cultural heritage of humanity.
The origins of the Cadre Noir
Under the Renaissance, the sophistication of the Italian princely courts was at its peak. The festivals, the dance, but also the use of the horse for the parade, and not only for the hunting and the war, spread in the European courts. From the Italian masters, the French squires teach new techniques for riding and introduce horse ballets alongside dances and music. Versailles, the Tuileries and Saint-Germain then became prestigious riding schools, in turn serving as models for all courses in Europe. When François Robichon de la Guérinière, a squire who teaches at the Tuileries riding school, published his Cavalry School in 1731, the work became a classic of the genre.
The Saumur School
It was at the end of the 16th century that Henri IV commissioned Philippe Duplessis-Mornay to Saumur, in Maine-et-Loire, to found a Protestant university with a riding academy. Later, when Louis XV entrusted the Duke of Choiseul with the reorganization of the royal cavalry in 1763, the Ecole de Saumur welcomed and trained the officers responsible for instruction in the cavalry regiments. Linked to the history of monarchs and courts, both prestige and almost exclusive privilege of the nobility, high horsemanship subsequently suffered the effects of the conspiracies and wars of the Empire. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, the cavalry was decimated. An academy armory was created in Saumur in 1814 next to the armory, and Charles X confirmed in 1825 the organization of the Royal Cavalry School of Saumur. It was in 1828 that the first Carrousel du Cadre Noir took place (a name that would not become official until 1986).
The instructors, dressed in black, differ from the squires of the Military Cavalry School dressed in blue and are already wearing the merry-go-round hat called the “bicorne” or the “lantern”. When the School of Versailles, where young nobles were trained in their preparation for the profession, disappeared in 1830, that of Saumur became the sole custodian of the French equestrian tradition. The impetus given by General l'Hotte, chief squire from 1864 to 1870, proved to be decisive for the prestige of the institution where "low school" work is practiced - which exercises the horse in its natural gait for the bring to the highest degree of regularity - and that of "high school" - which allows to control the gathering and the impulse and to give the gaits a stylized form. The riders must master the “school jumps” and the “raised airs”. Among these, the courbette (the horse rises towards the sky with its forelegs deployed), the croupade; (kick completely extending the hind limbs) and cabriole (almost simultaneous combination of a bow and a croup).
From military to civilian
At the beginning of the 20th century, when tanks and air force gradually replaced horses on the battlefield, the question arose of the usefulness of the Cadre Noir within the army. The institution is also starting to take an interest in the equestrian competitions of the Olympic Games, where its riders will gradually shine in each of the three disciplines: dressage, show jumping and eventing competition. The government cannot bring itself to do away with what has become over time a real living heritage for France. In 1972, the Saumur Riding School, bringing together civilians and soldiers and dependent on the Ministry of Youth and Sports, was created by decree. The Cadre Noir thus passes from military status to civilian status.
In 2011, Unesco registered horse riding in the French tradition and the Cadre Noir de Saumur in the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. A recognition which honors an equestrian art made of discretion, research and complicity between the rider and the horse with a particular concern for elegance; an art of riding established on a harmonious relationship between man and horse which excludes the use of any effect of physical force or psychological constraint in its education as in its conduct. The transmission of school jumps, which originally served to obtain from the war horse perfect submission and great maneuverability, makes it possible to prove the value and solidity of the horse, but also the excellence of the rider. The perfect match.
- A story of the squires of the Cadre Noir de Saumur, from the origins to the 21st century, by Jean-Pierre Tuloup. Grandvaux Editions, 2000.
- A history of French riding, by Guillaume Henry. Belin, 2014.