As the Paris Olympics fast approach, the horse world has turned it gaze towards the Palace of Versailles where the equestrian athletes and their mounts will go for the gold.

If you’re wondering why the organizers selected this venue on the outskirts of the City of Lights, it’s in no small part due to the palace’s long history with horses and riding. According to the Associated Press,  the stables were originally commissioned by King Louis XIV and were built between 1679 and 1682. During the 18th Century there were over 2,000 horses stabled there and the French Royals loved putting on a horse show.

During the French Revolution the Royal Stables were taken over by the cavalry right up through the Second World War. It was used for storage and archives until 2003, when the palace’s equestrian traditions got a major boost from French horse trainer and entertainment producer and creator Bartabas, who launched an elite riding school called the Academy of Equestrian Arts.

The Academy uses about 40 Lusitanos in its programs, a breed which was purportedly a favourite of Louis XIV. Every weekend a troupe of 12 dedicated riders give classical dressage performances in the indoor school. The Academy website describes the performance as a “corps de ballet” that is a “confrontation of various artistic disciplines such as dancing, singing, fencing or the Kyudo, traditional Japanese archery” that are incorporated into the performance.


A painting of the stables at Versailles.

The Great and Small Stables, commissioned by Louis XIV and constructed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart from 1679-82, represented the greatest royal construction project for housing horses ever undertaken. (


The stunning indoor arena was designed like a Broadway theatre with such design elements as “Murano glass chandeliers and mirrors, in which horses and riders are reflected ad infinitum, make reference to the Hall of Mirrors.”

The current crop of riders is enthusiastic about the upcoming Olympic Games coming to their local ring. “There’s a lot of historical meaning to have those Olympics in the gardens,” academy rider Dounia Kazzoul told AP. “The King used to organize a lot of (theater) plays and shows in those gardens. So it’s really great to have that here!”

The Palace of Versailles will be open to the public during the Games and to honour their special athletes, the palace will be hosting an exhibition on “Horses and Equestrian Civilization in Europe” from July 2 to Nov. 3. The Olympics run from July 26 to August 11.