The Official 2060 Superprix! Fan Guide, The Definitive Guide to Mid-21st Century DRESSAGE, An Equestrian Fantasy by Michelle Guillot. Paperback, 84 pages. Available at www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/superprix/7431987
Reviewed by Mary Daniels
Seldom if ever, does one encounter satire in dressage literature, because seldom if ever do we as a collective, poke fun at our own sport. Breaking this solemnity barrier is Michelle Guillot, who has written and illustrated this work of rapier-sharp wit and delightful is somewhat disturbing visual creativity.
It is one of those rare things that can be read on more than one level- simply as a poke of fun at the sport in general, or more deeply, as a crystal ball criticism of what the future might hold for dressage, if it continues on the path it is now taking.
Guillot foresees "SuperPrix" as being acclaimed as one of the most exciting and spectacular of competitive team sports by the mid-21st Century. "With a fan base exceeding that of the professional football of the last century, Super Prix (formerly known as Dressage) has found a popularity unmatched by any other spectator sport. The combination of huge, powerful (and often unpredictable) horses ridden by petite, beautiful women in curve-hugging bodysuits has been embraced by a public jaded by the ubiquity of male-dominated contact sports," she writes.
She introduces "The New Frame, with its electric tension and dynamism," as the kind of vibrant performance demanded by today's SuperPrix judges. (The outline undeniably seems to resemble rollkur.)
On the next page with a red slash across it is "the old-fashioned frame of the 20th century. Calmness and obedience were prized, resulting in prosaic gaits and an overall impression of harmonious monotony." In spite of myself, I had to laugh.
The year 2019 marked the final demise of Classical Dressage (though it did go underground) and established SuperPrix as the goal of competitive riders worldwide, she writes.
First step to modernization was a radical change in the form of competitions. All lower level tests, training through fourth level in the U.S. were eliminated from rated shows. FEI-rated competition was separated into two divisions, Aesthetic Equitation and Prix Prix. Scores were based on three sets of marks: 60 percent on artistic creativity, 35 percent on turnout of horse and rider, coordinated tack and riding apparel required (and wait until you see how colorful, fruit-shaped helmets and all) and 5 percent on technical execution.
Her illustrations of innovative developments in tack, farriery, riding apparel and even in the breeding of the spider-legged SuperPrix horse itself, are works of great imagination and artistic skill.
However, she admits her horror when she went to an equine trade fair recently and found some of her fantasies, such as the Guter Sitz saddle which holds the rider in the correct position with ultra-deep seats and supportive knee rolls, is already evolving into reality.
She feels the next logical step toward popularizing the sport, is to modernize riding apparel into contour-hugging lycra-spandex unitards, which have to coordinate with adornment of the rider's mount (forget white tape-braids are also fruit-themed).
One of her most innovative designs is the Rueckgrat Aufwickelender or The Spine Cracker, a training harness that combines elements of a head-setter, bitting rig and action enhancer. Hock and ankles hobbles are connected to a spider's web of flexible steel cables and pulley blocks that when used exert a subtle but irresistible force on every joint in the horse's body.
Of course, underlying all this exaggeration, is the idea that all these "improvements" are symptomatic of a larger issue, "the current desire to maximize results in the show ring while minimizing the time and effort it takes to educate the horse and the rider," as she says.
Admiring her skill at satire, I HAD to email Guillot to find out what compelled her to write this small but telling book.
"SuperPrix started life as a website two years ago," she emailed back. She has been an opponent of rollkur since she bought "a lovely young horse from a well-known dressage barn in the Netherlands. This poor creature was so curled up and traumatized by his 'correct' training that he has crush injuries in both parotid glands, which remain swollen to this day, despite retraining him be up and open in his carriage. I wanted to speak out against this abusive training method, but as an amateur rider centrally located in the middle of nowhere, I knew my voice would count for very little."
"Initially I just puttered around with a few drawings satirizing the recent developments in dressage equipment that promised quick results with little effort: saddles that lock the rider into 'a perfect position,' bridles that clamp the horse's jaw shut, gadgets that force the horse's body into 'a correct frame.' This led to imagining a future where many of today's disturbing trends in training and competition have grown into a global industry driven by box office receipts, where horses are merely pieces of high-priced sporting equipment.
"Almost by accident I found a way to protest the current trends in dressage and hopefully give people a few chuckles along the way," she says.
The summer of 2009 she turned website into a book, expanding the text and adding a number of new illustrations. She has gotten reviews, including by Eurodressage on their "What's Happening Page," and to her total surprise there is now talk of French and German editions of the book.
As for her professional background, Guillot has more than 40 years experience as a scene and costume designer and illustrator, her theater credits including more than 100 productions ranging from drama to ballet and opera.
In addition to SuperPrix, she has written and illustrated Sprinkles the Dressage Pony for young riders, with a foreword by Walter Zettl.
She is currently working on her next book, The Dressage Queen's Handbook, the essential guide to achieving true DQ status. I can't wait!
In the meantime, if you enjoy kicking a little controversy into conversation with your DQ acquaintances or have friends who may still be on the fence about the rollkur debate, here's the perfect little tripwire of a book.