Every two years we all stop to cheer our respective countries on to gold in the Olympics. This year, while everyone is cozying up to their TVs to watch the old standards of swimming, gymnastics, and track and field, I have found myself without at TV at all. But that’s okay. Seen one guy swim across a pool or one girl flip across a balance beam you seen ‘em all as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve always loved becoming an instant fan of the lesser known sports. Women’s 10m air pistol target shooting? I’m in! Team archery competitions? Why not? And who doesn’t love a good badminton controversy now and then?
But this year my drug … I mean sport of choice to become an instant two week fan of is all of the equestrian eventing. Why? Because I tuned in online on a whim to dressage … and got that delicious warm and fuzzy feeling that romance writers get when they see a man in Regency garb.
Because that’s what competitors wear when they’re competing in dressage. Full-on breeches with tight coat and (slightly squashed) top-hat. Some of the competitors were even wearing cravats. And there they are, astride some of the most beautiful, well-behaved, shiny horses you’re ever going to see. Beautiful creatures riding beautiful creatures!But what, you might ask, is the point of dressage? It looks like a horse wandering around a pen, you say. Where is the competition in that? Is this another of those so-called “sports” with rogue Russian judges, like figure-skating?
Actually, having listened to the commentators for several hours now (and delightful old British chaps they are too) I think I’m actually starting to understand dressage.
Dressage is a French word that can translate as “training”. See, back in the day when horses were cars, or at least the primary means of transportation, it was important to have a mount that knew what it was doing every second you were riding it. Men relied on horses to carry them through the hunt, but also through battle and on the road in a variety of situations. It was essential that man and horse be as one in these life-or-death situations.
So how do you train your mount to be the sports car of the pre-automobile age? By working with it. By putting it through its paces. Both man and beast need to become so attuned to each other that the slightest touch or nudge, the slightest change in mood and atmosphere, communicate the exact message to slow down, speed up, trot, walk, lift your feet, go right, go left, or stop.
A horse and rider stepping into the dressage arena are as much a team as a duo competing in beach volleyball. Or perhaps a better analogy would be pairs figure skating. It’s about artistry as much as its about athleticism. If either the horse or the rider is having a bad day it is going to affect both of them. And it’s a little bit harder to find a sports psychologist for a horse.
According to what I’ve been able to glean from listening to the commentators, the judges in dressage are looking for several very subtle things. They’re looking for the horse to obey the commands given by the rider without hesitation. They’re looking for the rider to appear at ease and in control at all times. They’re looking for a long (LONG!) sequence of moves to be performed by memories in exact spots in the arena with precision. If it looks like the horse and rider are just out there walking around without incident then they’ve done it right.
But what really makes dressage sexy are the outfits. There’s something so buttoned-up and British about the whole thing, no matter what the nationality of the competitor. It’s so formal, so stalwartly suggestive. Horse and rider both ooze power and grace. You get the impression that a dressage rider could ace a test, then jump off their horse and dance a waltz with you in the inevitably adjacent ballroom, then bed you with panache. Yes please!Of course the other thing that is undeniably sexy about dressage is that it is one of the few sports that I can think of that is not only co-ed, women compete on equal footing with the men. There are no special rules, no closer starting lines, and no smaller score requirements for victory. Men, women, geldings, mares … level playing field. Not only that, dressage is about the only sport I know of where a 51 year old woman (Great Britain’s Mary King) can finish fifth out of a field of 74 competitors including men young enough to be her son AND help win a silver team medal for her country along with three other women (including the Queen’s granddaughter) and one man.
Yep, dressage is the sexiest sport known to man. It combines class, style, guys that are completely my type and women that can kick some serious butt. What more could you ask for?