The horse becomes the artist

The goal is to elevate the horse to a level of strength and elegance it would never reach on its own, improving Nature to the point of “Art”.

Charles de Kunffy

I recently received a private message in response to a comment I made on Facebook.  This was the portion of my comment to which the person was responding:

With equestrian art, we will not even have lasting works to admire … other than in written word or the rare fuzzy photo or video. We already have diminished existing knowledge …

My comment was in response to someone discussing the preservation of “equestrian culture” and the works of those who have come before us.  The conversation continued on Facebook, but the person making the original comment also messaged me the following:

I wondered if you would like to have Nuno’s sad reflection on the same topic taken from the reminiscences of an old Portuguese ecuyer.

I was touched by the reaction to my comment, but even more by the quote that followed:

“..I understood then that equitation as an art is comparable to music and dance. In performing itself it can only vanish, drawing its attraction from the very unlikelihood of this choreography for two, this Pas de Deux.

At its highest level the dialogue fuses into a single voice. The “ecuyer” must at the same time be choreographer and dancer, he upholds the grace, an incredible harmony, he bears within himself the rhythm, carries it and gives it to his partner, he reveals his partners own style while he himself fades away.

The horse has to become the artist. From there on, the ecuyer merely indicates and therein the tragedy lies.

Equestrian Art defined in such a way becomes a desperate art. Once the doors of the manege are closed, only an emotion remains, a lingering vision.

Nuno Oliveira

These are not the ponderings of someone concerned about fame or prizes – these are the thoughts of an artist.  I have only the word of the person who shared that this is from Nuno, but to me it does not matter.  The words are poignant and they resonate for me.  I have long pondered the commonality between my passion for art and my passion for Dressage.  Several years ago, that connection was solidified for me by hearing Charles de Kunffy say this:

“We are followers of a living art, and living arts only survive through the knowledge of its practitioners … if one of two generations mispractice [sic] it, then the art dies.”

This is true of many arts in human history.  Whether from technology or greed, many art techniques have been lost to time, when their practitioners died with no one to carry on their traditions.  We are at risk of this same fate for Classical Dressage, as the true masters are nearly gone, and the modern sport bears no resemblance to the art it once was.

But the Nuno quote speaks to an even more transient character to the art of Dressage – that of the dance created by the horseman and the horse.  The partnership is fleeting enough, due to the horse’s lifespan – and life in general.  But the journey to the dance is generally longer than the span during which we get to enjoy the horse as artist.

I hope that you have found some beauty in Nuno’s words and, if you have horses, that you manage to enjoy moments of the “desperate art” with your equine partner.

Be good to your horses!


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