As we walked from the train station to the Chateau, we passed a tourist office that wasn't busy. I figured it might not be a bad idea to stop in and ask if they knew about the horse thing and the tours. As it happened, we were able to buy tickets for the equestrian performance right there, and they told us where to go to sign up for tours... and incidentally, avoid pretty much the entire line to enter.
The tour we ended up signing up for was called something like "The Private Chambers of the King." It was really interesting, going through areas of the Chateau that are not open to the self-guided tour, and we got to hear about things like the king's fondness for hunting and see the room where his favored hunting dogs got to hang out, learn about some of the daily rituals (some of the ostentation of the place is because he felt that as the king, he was a public figure and had to live up to the reputation of his office, as well as make himself available to be seen... but imagine having a dozen people attending your waking up, and having people pay to be allowed to attend you in the toilet so that they could get a private audience with you!)
The details of the buildings and the work that has been done to restore it is pretty incredible as well. Not everything has been re-foiled in gold or repainted yet; there are apparently areas that aren't even open to the tour guides that are still under work, but it costs a lot of money to restore and furnish a place like this... perhaps someday it will all be finished. There are apparently not much in the way of servants quarters and working areas left (kitchens, laundry areas, and so forth) because at some point, the chateau had been renovated with an eye towards preserving the culture, and not so much for function.
The tour finished up in the private chapel of the king. It's absolutely stunning. However, even the private chapel wasn't terribly private; there is a balcony above where the court would attend to see the royal family.
After the smaller group tour, we went on to the main area of the chateau, following the path for the "self-guided" tour. Each area and sometimes room of the palace has a different feel and color scheme.
The chambers of the king's daughters in particular had a different feel from the rest of the palace.
Many of the walls had gorgeous fabric coverings; I love how the light plays against the velvet here, showing it. Most of the photos I tried to take of the details of the curtains and wall coverings don't really show the three-dimensional aspect.
Of course we went through the Hall of Mirrors (all my photos came out blurry and there's tons of better pictures on the internet anyway, but here's a self-portrait)
And there are areas of the chateau that had been rededicated to the Revolution, including painting galleries depicting important men of the period, and a gallery showing the history of France.
We also visited the Galerie des Carrosses - a collection of royal coaches, as well as harnesses and equipment associated with them. There were tiny child-sized ones to be pulled by a dog or pony; huge ornate ones for royal processions (a lot of them seem to have been used in the wedding processions of Napoleon and Josephine); sledges and sleighs for the winter; sedan chairs; and a funerary coach.
Many of these wheels are, of course, too ornate and delicate for sustained travel... so they had travel wheels and wheels that would be put on just before they entered a town or city.
In the evening was the equestrian spectacle. It reminded me of Cavalia, but not as well done. No doubt that the riders and horses were all amazing, but the overall showmanship wasn't quite as good. There was a lot more subtle stuff that you'd understand if you know horses and riding, but would be boring if you didn't. They also had some "other" bits - the show opened with three ladies on foot, shooting Japanese-style bows (not very accurately) to a heavy drumbeat. There was a section of fencing; it was flashy, but G says it really wasn't good. They also had a little "cow horse" exhibition... where the cows were the other riders on foot, while the quarter horse herded and cut one of the "cows" - but having seen real cows being worked, it was both a pale imitation and not well done. I wonder if those who aren't familiar with Western riding and cattle work even recognized it for what it was. However, there were also a number of beautifully ridden sections, with pas de deux, drill formations both in the saddle and on long reins, and overall it was very enjoyable. The performance was followed by a walkthrough of the stables as the riders and grooms settled the horses for the night.
The stable buildings are enormous. No photos were allowed in the performance (and the lighting wasn't good enough to really try anyway), but we did catch a glimpse of a grullo being warmed up :)
Overall, a long, but enjoyable day. We didn't hit the gardens, because we were tired, short of time, and being February, we figured they wouldn't be all that amazing anyway. The weather was overcast and cold... we'll just have to go back another time :)