firm seat in the saddle

Let us not forget that my main passion is for the horses. The steeds of my life were only surpassed in my heart by the occasional wolfhound, truth be told.

Unfortunately, I had to give up riding in middle age, due to arthritis. My brittle bones and sore joints.  My many aches that even the prolonged rest cures could not fix.

Before that time, however, I delighted in the speculation that I would one day be thrown. That during a hunt, my mount might stumble and send me bustle-over-sidesaddle, hurling to the earth. My Lady, Marie Festetics, used to pray, “God grant that my beloved Empress return home safe and sound.” Which I always did.

In my halcyon days, there was even a ballad celebrating my exploits:

The bright star of Europe’ her kingdom has left,
And Austria mourns of its Empress bereft.
Firm seat in the saddle: light hands on the reins,
As e’er guided steed over Hungary’s plains:
She has come–with her beauty, grace, courage and skill
To ride with our hounds, from old Shuckburgh Hill.

It is with bitter dismay, I must admit, that I never had the chance to perform at the Olympic games. Sidesaddle jumping–I would have been a shoe-in for the gold!

riding astride and other no-no’s

we darenst be seen straddling the mount!

Thank goodness for dear Mr. Pellier and his invention of the leaping horn.  If not for him, I could never have controlled my darling piebald, Cupid.  In the days when Mummi rode (before marriage, and then, only a handful of times) she rode atop a saddle fashioned like a chair, with a planchette footrest on the side.  It was as though she were in her living room, and if the horse had any spirit whatsoever, down Mummi went, skirt over head, to the hard earth below.

If I had my druthers, however, I might wear only pantalettes and ride astride, like Papa and Gackl.  One can certainly get a higher jump from one’s steed with its barrel between the legs.

if my crinolines get any fuller, I will be far too fancy to ride!

While we’re on the subject, I find it disconcerting that certain types of exercise have been banned in places.  That horrible man, Mr. Walker and his wretched little book, “Exercise for Ladies,” caused quite a stir.  Oh but didn’t the Baroness smile as she presented the atrocious tome on my 11th birthday, hissing, “Your Grace, you’ll see in these pages that if you continue your pleasure rides, you will become so deformed, that your womb will never house a proper Monarch.” So self-pleased was she, that she actually feigned the act of washing in air, her hands like two serpents squirming inbetwixt themselves!

my thoughts on the duchess’s skiing ban

I am perturbed to hear that Sarah Ferguson has put the kybosh on her girls’ annual skiing holiday lest they get bumped or bruised before the upcoming nuptials of their cousin, William.

it's just another wedding, after all!

Friends, this strikes a deep cord and opens many wounds for yours truly.  I can’t tell you the number of fun activities I had to forgo for this or that silly reason.  Having to wield a parasol every time the sun broke through the Vienna cloud so freckles wouldn’t overtake.  Banning me from my daily exercise routine during my monthlies.  And don’t even get me started on the restrictions to horseback riding!

I am surprised that in this day and age the elder generation is still so nervous about potential calamity.  What’s the worst that could happen?  Bea in a cast as she ambles into the church?  Or Eugenie with a sunburn? No, if I was their mum, I’d insist as business as usual.  Those girls could use a little fresh air and exercise! Some red into their pale British cheeks! I say, put them back on the pistes and let the skis fall where they may.

But then, that’s what always gets me into trouble.

ware the abomination!

all the rage in wales!

It has come to this, has it? Royalty, ladies and countesses and even a baroness or two, installing exercise horses in their rooms.

I find this sad, truly. When there are so many very good steeds getting fat in the stable, why can’t we encourage ladies to ride them? Nay. Neigh! Instead, the hucksters far and wide have created pretend horses, for pretend riding!

Oh, I can see Baroness now, she’ll be signing up for one of these atrocities post-haste. She of the chronic auto-intoxication. She of the frigid temperament.

As for me, I shall never give up my gallops through the Englischer Garten on Cupid and Psyche. Let the duchesses, archduchesses and women of court have their steely ponies. Me, I wish to have an animal with a beating heart beneath my bustle!

The Circus Within

if we were not princely born, Papa and I would have been circus riders

I adored my father, and was normally eager to join in the make-believe, the folly, the fun that he provided during his home stays, though even I could see how he’d stretched the limits this time.  Papa loved children.  All children.  But it often seemed as if his own children were no more or less important to him than any others.  Papa’s eyes were wild, and the green of them swam now, in a sea of drink.

What could I do?  I took two of the boys in either hand, and away I skipped, toward the welcome smells of fresh hay, sawdust and our very own circus.

Back to Munich

nene, after she became helene

What do you think it would be like, living in Vienna, Duchess Helene?”

Nené took in a deep breath, and then, a miracle.  She actually smiled.  I could tell that inside her carefully tended head she had visions of grandness.

“When I am Empress,” she began, “I imagine that I’ll attend many affairs, dressed in gowns of velvet.  Brocade.  Silk.  I’ll have rosebuds woven into my hair.”

I looked at her simple brown morning dress.  It did, at least, have pearl buttons.

“But what about the Emperor,” I wanted to know.  “Will you be in love?”

Mummi burst in before my sister could answer, “Love, my daughters, is not the point.”