in which I talk about dressage and related subjects

My ex was an equestrian, and so, every year when we were together we’d go to the National Horse Show. I really enjoyed this — it’s always fun to watch something really difficult and esoteric when you are with somebody who is willing to explain things and answer questions.

In addition to the various competitive events, there was usually some sort of sort of exhibition.

One year the exhibition was some top dressage riders. Dressage is hard to describe — it’s sometimes called “horse ballet.” Basically it’s getting horses to do very stylized and unnatural movements in a very natural way.

For example, when a horse canters or gallops (I may get some of the terms wrong — it’s been a while), it always leads with the same foot. One thing you can train a horse to do it called “flying changes,” where you can cue the horse to switch the lead foot while in motion. Top dressage horses can be trained to do “flying changes on every lead,” where they alternate the lead foot every single time.

This is not something that any horse would ever think of doing on its own, but it’s beautiful to watch. (Training a top dressage horse can take ten years.)

Anyway, not to go on and on about dressage, which is beyond my ability to describe, but here’s the point. Watching this dressage exhibition, I was transfixed, but not so transfixed that I didn’t notice my ex, leaning forward intently, her eyes fixed on horse and rider, muttering to herself.

As the exhibition ended, she leaned back in her seat, looking vexed.

“I couldn’t see the cues,” she explained.

Part of the art of dressage is that the rider, who is directing the horse to do all these amazing things, is supposed to look as if the horse is doing everything on its own and the rider is just being taken for a ride. And my ex, with her trained equestrian eyes, had been unable to even detect the cues, the cues which must have been there.

I’ve always thought that art works this way, too. Some art I can figure out exactly why I enjoy it, which doesn’t diminish my enjoyment at all. But other things just knock me for loop, and I have no idea why. I can’t see the cues, though I react to them just the same.

As I reacted to the dressage exhibition, of course.

Robert Altman is my favorite movie director, and I don’t think there’s ever been a wonderful moment in an Altman movie that I didn’t understand how it worked. On the other hand, I love some David Lynch movies and I couldn’t begin to explain why.

Part of that may be the first Lynch is more “visual” (whatever that means), and Altman is much more about human behavior. And I’m not a really “visual” person — I’m sometimes moved by images, but I have no training in how they work.

But it’s more than that. A Harold Pinter play can leave me speechless, even though objectively what happens is something like: “A man is sitting in a room. Another man comes in and they speak. Some of what they’re talking about is difficult to follow, as is their relationship. They could be intimately connected in some way, or they could be complete strangers. One of them could be insane. Then one of them collapses and two other men come in and remove him from the room. First act curtain.”

Damned if I know.

Has that ever happened to you, that you were really affected by something and had no idea why?

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2 Responses to in which I talk about dressage and related subjects

  1. SB Roberts says:

    That happens to me often, but I usually chalk it up to my over-sensitive introverted brain. 🙂

  2. Your answer makes me think that there are really two different things here. One is things which hit us on one particular day, for no apparent reason. That could be all sorts of different factors, obviously.

    But then there are the things which always affect us the same way. That’s harder to explain. I was emailing with a friend from high school, and I happened to mention my enthusiasm for Les Miserables. Even in email I could hear the baffled sound of his “Oh. Really,” since this has nothing to do with any other music that I like.

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