Thursday, March 17, 2016

Horse Ballet

I really do know very little about horses, beyond them all having a leg at each corner, a hoof on the end of each leg, and they're generally big enough to ride. Not that I've ridden one in probably 25 years, and that was for an hour of light-duty pony trekking in which the animal knew the routine and did precisely what it wanted. This was to do the same old circuit of the bridleways around Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Petersfield in Hampshire.

Anyway, fast-forward to Doha in 2016, and my friends Nix and Pegz suggested that I might like to go along to an international horse tournament over at Al Shaqab. As Beloved Wife was in Doha that weekend, we agreed to meet at the venue.

In the traditional way, we arrived at Gate 8 as signposted, to be told that the parking was full, and to go to Gate 9. There, another officious Bottom Inspector declared that we'd have to drive halfway to bluddy Shahhaniya and get the shuttle bus back. So I parked outside on the street. The same jobsworth declared that we weren't allowed to enter the car park on foot from Gate 9; I drove back to Gate 8, entered on foot, and we made our way to the entrance halfway between Gates 8 and 9.

No, I don't understand it either.

Having met up with Nix and Pegz, we sat and watched some horses going over jumps, and I took photos. As I said, I'm completely Jon Snow about how to do it, but I do get that instructing the animal to get its stride exactly right in order to clear 1.6m hurdles takes a lot of skill. And to stay aboard whilst doing so: that also helps. At least the rules are fairly easy:

Fastest wins, assuming nothing gets knocked over and nobody falls off.  If nobody gets a clear round, fastest still wins with minimum faults. And these are world-class performers, so falling off is probably extremely unlikely.

We'd arrived for a final jump-off against the clock, and when that was over we went to the indoor arena to watch the horse ballet.

Dressage, as it is more properly known, is more difficult to understand than jumping. There are stopwatches turning, there are judges in several different locations, and there's a loud music track that keeps changing.

The horse dances. Not in a 'bouncing around on its hind legs' way like the Lipizzaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, but a lot of hoof-pointing, high strides, and a whole lot of other stuff that must have names. See Jon Snow for more details.

I noted double reins, and a lot of very, very subtle moves from each rider. Nix assures me that the tiniest movement allows the rider to tell the horse what is required. The performances obviously were the result of months or years of training and practice. I couldn't do most of it, and I've only actually  got one pair of hooves.


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