Equine Poetry in Motion

Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas are seen here in this video of their world-record dressage performance in London. For those new to dressage, this art and sport involve schooling a horse's natural motion into a fluid near-ballet of precise communication between horse and rider. Teams are judged on suppleness, balance, and responsiveness. As the commentator on the video notes, this 9 year-old stallion may well be one of those "once in a lifetime" horses. Notice how still the rider seems--in fact, he is continually cuing the horse with his hands, legs and shifting his own balance in the saddle. At one point the horse seems to "skip." What he's doing is changing leads (the leg with which a horse steps forward in each stride of a canter,) every stride or two. The break in the middle of the exercise where the horse relaxes and walks is precisely to see if the team can shift from intense focus and collection (strides without much forward movement, like trotting in place,) to a relaxed uncollected gait, back to full working focus again. I wish my students--and I!--could make that transition so apparently effortlessly.For anyone who has ever worked with horses, (especially stallions!) dressage at this level seems nearly miraculous. I present this video here on Commonweal (despite its lack of direct Catholic ecclessial reference,) as an interlude of stunning beauty on a sabbath afternoon. Because even though "The horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its might it cannot save," (Ps. 33:17) still the lover in Song of Solomon compares the beloved's beauty to that of "a horse among Pharaoh's chariots." (Song, 1:9.) And we glorify God not only for dappled things, but also for the grace and power of the natural world in collaboration with humankind.

Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).

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