OK, fair warning, this has every chance of devolving into, sigh, yet another circus rant. But I swear I do have a point that doesn't have much to do with horses--but I only know how to talk about it using horses as a metaphor.
Please watch the linked video and then come back so we can chat. (It starts in Danish at a Warmblood Exhibition which is basically a breeder's convention. These things have LOTS of horse performances in the evening. Sometimes a stallion will be retired at a breeder's convention. They are their own awards show with all of the glitter and questionable taste. Which brings me to my first warning--don't be alarmed by the moving Abe Lincoln statue. He startled me at first, and I'm still not sure why he's there.) As you're watching, do me a favor and take note of where the Horse People clap. Because I'll need to talk about that in a sec. A Pat Parelli Disciple Shows Us His Moves
OK. You back? Confused? What the heck is Suisan up to now?
First, the guy trains his horse for years to prance next to him at liberty, brushes him to a satiny glow, but cannot be bothered to train his mane to fall on one side? Jeez, with a little Dippity Doo, a couple of braiding elastics and comb I can get that thing tamed in two weeks. Scruffy is not a good look for a performance horse. End of obscure personal rant regarding horse grooming.
Second, were you THAT impressed? Really? Kind of all looked the same didn't it? Horse circles to the left, to the right, trots slow, trots fast. (OK, the jumping over the teeny barrel which he could have easily dodged was well done.)
(Here I have to say that I refuse to make nasty comments on the music except to explain to the uninitiated that there is no such thing as good taste or any logic regarding music choices for horse performances. Ravel's Bolero was big in the 1970s and now Celine is all that. There is no good music for horses. Sorry. Back to the clapping.)
Did you get the impression that the audience was really worked up at some points that were bizarre? Yeah. Me too. Because they were all experienced in training horses. They had tried to make their horse passage under saddle for years and here this guy was doing it at liberty? Hoo Dang! Yay! Oh! Did you check the Half-pass? And the Spanish Walk at the end? Yay!
I get this sometimes when I listen to ice skating commentary. There's a jump or an extra spin and the commentator just about loses his pants, "Wow! Did you see that? A Triple? Just after two Doubles? This is amazing!" And I'm thinking, "Spinning. All I see is spinning. But the costumes are nice."
So what I'm really trying to get at here, is that there are parts in any performance which are tremendously difficult but hard to see unless you're very experienced in the field, or on the other hand, just not that exciting. (Making the horse roll over on his back so he could straddle him. Incredibly, almost stupidly, dangerous. And, unfortunately for all that danger, really ridiculous looking for both man and horse.)
Then there are part which are flashy but not so difficult. (Riding the horse bareback and steering him at a jump which is so low he doesn't have to break his canter stride to clear it.)
Then there are parts which are mildly difficult but look much flashier than they are. (Standing on the horse's chest and hips--unfortunate angle in this clip, but he's not standing on his belly--while snapping a bullwhip. Oooooo. He's not startling! Ooooooo. He's not getting up! Yeah, cause you're standing on his shoulder and hips, for god's sake! And you think police horses aren't trained to ignore gunshots?)
So what makes a performance work? There has to be splash and dazzle and timing and, that thing which is so hard to put your finger on: flair. It has to be difficult enough that knowledgable people go "OoooOOOOoooo." But it has to hold the attention of the lesser mortals. This is damn difficult. But it's always something I watch for.
My parents went to Vienna and I asked them to bring me something from the Spanish Riding School. I got a book, a calendar, and a DVD. Surprisingly dissapointed with the performance on the DVD. Those guys are flat out gorgeous--their quadrille timing is impecable--the grooming of horse and rider is perfect--the accord between horse and rider is flawless. But all they did was half-pass. "Look Ma! We can canter sideways!" Yeah, OK. Do Something Else.
Ugh. I am so jaded! What is wrong with me?!?!
I got this clip from a horse bulletin board where someone posted it with the title: Now THAT is a Well-Trained horse. And I was Theeeez close to posting in reply, "Well, yes, but not a very good performance. And it was notable to me that the horse evaded the full rear not once but twice. He hopped barrels, and half-passed and all, but the one trick which was strenuous which was entirely up to him? He chose not to participate, thank you very much. Says to me he's been doing this one exhibition for a very l-o-n-g time and is getting bored. Says to me that the trainer hasn't quite gotten around to mixing up the order of the show. One refusal, no big deal. But the guy asks him again and the horse STILL refuses? There's a "bugger you" message in there somewhere." But then I knew that would start a flame war, and I'm not really up to that today.
So instead I decided to bedevil you, my dear readers, with my thoughts on putting together a balanced and entertaining performance. Please, for the love of god, mix it up a little.