Under the Ancien Régime, the horse made its way into marches and the court, in addition to its initial uses (war, transportation, hunting, etc.). Equitation was a privilege of nobility. Also, all young men from good families learned to combat on horseback. In 1594 Antoine de Pluvinel, Grand Ecuyer at the court of King Henry IV and riding instructor of the young dauphin Louis XIII, opened in Paris one of the first Equestrian Academies. In order to attend his classes, students had to prove that noble blood ran in their veins for at least four generations... They then learned the basics of the art of war and high school figures, thus keeping their distance from other social strata.
A king, being a good rider, will govern his people better [...]
Duc of Newcastle, 1657
Reserved for the elite, the animal was such an assertive sign of power and grandeur that kings had their portraits made on horseback. Horses thus offered a pedestal tailored to the rulers. Equestrian portraits were also a way to show the world that the king mastered his horse, controlled it and triumphed in the saddle as he reigns over his subjects. In 1657, the Duke of Newcastle perfectly illustrated this metaphor: "A king, being a good rider, will govern his people better, and will know when to reward or punish them, when to hold their hand tightly or when to let it go, when they need gentle help, or when is most proper to spur them on."