Patty Lasko: Dressage and National Politics

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This is a political year with elections right around the corner, and with Mrs. Ann Romney's interest in dressage, our niche horse sport has been in an unaccustomed spotlight. I might have said "under the microscope" but reporters (especially political reporters) seem not so interested in really knowing about the effect that horses have on people like you and me and Mrs. R. They seem much more interested in clich?s and putting their own spin and prejudices on the those of us who love horses, especially those in the dressage community right now.

I may sit in an ivory tower sometimes and wish to be more in the trenches, but from my perch I can see how diverse a population the dressage community is (worldwide), and yet our love of horses and dressage training bring us together. Some of us take care of rescue horses. Some teach and train indefatigably. Some breed horses. Some organize shows, while others sell equipment we need. Some are vets or farriers. Some are crazed competitors; others shy away from competition altogether. Some are Olympic riders while others need horses as therapy for a variety of reasons. I did an article on Mrs. Romney in 2004 where she talked about how riding dressage horses was the "elixir of pure joy" she needed to help her deal with multiple sclerosis (MS). I thought she was amazing then and I still do. How wonderful to have a horsewoman like her as part of our sport. How cruel of some reporters to criticize her for following her passion for it.

In her syndicated column, dressage rider Pam Stone said that Mrs. R had once told her that Jan Ebeling was there to help her through the beginning of her dressage learning while fighting her MS. Then she wanted to help Jan with his dream: to be on an international team. No matter how much money you have or don't have, that's what I call being a good, true friend. It's a beautiful example of how to behave toward one another.

After about a 15-year association, Jan's dream has finally come true as he will ride Mrs. R's horse, Rafalca, on the U.S. Olympic team in London along with Steffen Peters, Tina Konyot, Adrienne Lyle and Heather Blitz. What exemplary representatives of the sport all these individuals are. It makes me proud as I'm sure it does you. We'll be cheering them on soon.

Of course there is a dark side to every lifestyle, every sport. Certainly recent news reports have made our sport look silly, boring, obscure and worse. But that is because they just don't know us well enough. Be patient with them. Just be yourselves and do your usual good job, no matter how you are provoked. Continue to explain what dressage is to people who don't know. Tell them why it appeals to you and what the horse means to you. (I know it's your favorite topic anyway.) Other people, including political reporters, will figure us out if they really want to know and there is nothing we can do about people who are determined to talk something down.

For anyone who really wants to understand, here is what revered dressage master Nuno Oliveira (1925-1989) said about training the horse:

"In this modern world where machines and scientific inventions multiply unceasingly, the horse can have an important role. He is the ideal companion for man, who loves him and finds in his company something rarefied and transcendent. For the young, the practise of equitation is a valuable lesson, as it requires the exercise of all human virtues."

Oliveira goes on to explain, "Equestrian art is the perfect understanding between the rider and his horse. ? The horse is then a partner, rather than a slave who is enforced to obey a rigid master by constraint. ? To practise equestrian art is to establish a conversation on a higher level with the horse; a dialogue of courtesy and finesse. ? The spectator can then see the sublime beauty of this communion. He will be touch by the grace and the form, and captivated as if he were hearing the most grandiose music."

Finally, "The apex of perfection in equestrian art is not an exhibition of a great deal of different airs and movements by the same horse, but rather the conservation of the horse's enjoyment, suppleness and finesse during the performance, which calls for comparison with the finest ballet, or performance of an orchestra, or seeing a play by Racine, so moving is the sight of perfectly unisoned movements. This indeed is the true reward for all the work ? essential to the horse's training."?from Reflections on Equestrian Art

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