Zen And The Art Of The Equestrian Alphabet
Zen and the art of the equestrian alphabet is on display at any dressage show. Go see one; you will leave knowing that horses are as smart as a second grader, at the very least. Much smarter than people who get pulled over for drunk driving.
Most of my friends are people I’ve known for half my life. Only one of them knows the equestrian alphabet. His horse, Dagan, stood 17 hands high–a big horse. This horse was very good at dressage.
I’d emailed my friend asking him to send me a picture of the blue ribbons he’d won over many years of competition. Dressage is the kind of riding where the rider wears a tuxedo, dates Audrey Hepburn, and the horse knows calculus. If his horse doesn’t come up with the formula for fission and saves the world, he and his rider lose the competition.
I have no idea if there is a formula for fission, but a horse will know, I’m sure of it.
I was my friend’s caller when he competed riding Dagan. I stood at the side of a riding arena, which has letters painted around the inside of a ring, and I’d call out the combination of letters the horse and rider needed to do in their four or eight minutes in the ring.
They go to each letter the caller calls out, while the horse steps real high as if he’s afraid of stepping in poop. Occasionally he’ll hop over a little pile of it, but real gracefully. The horse listens closely and then heads to the corresponding letter in the ring like he and the rider are playing a life size game of chess in a Mel Brook’s movie.
My friend gave me a little card that said I was an Official Caller. I know this card is official, because it has an official seal and it says ‘Official’ right on it. It confers the right to stand at the side of any riding ring in the world, besides being required to attend international summit meetings to discuss the dismantling of nuclear warheads.
After the horse prances over in different patterns to the required letters, the judges decide whether he really knows his alphabet or not.
My friend won all sorts of ribbons for this, as if he was the one doing all the work. They both looked pretty doing dressage, my friend wearing a cool black and white outfit and little bowler hat, and the horse all dolled up with a braided mane that must have taken him hours to do in his stall. The whole thing may have been a contest to see who had the best braided mane.
My friends are a diverse group, and are not composed of people that I think of as susceptible to the changing winds of trends, fashions, or even my opinions. That’s why I’ve always felt free to express as many as possible. That isn’t true; I’d express my opinion even if I thought someone may take it seriously. Opinions are like ears, everyone has at least two. I cleaned up that quote from my equestrian friend.
After I’d asked for a picture of his blue ribbons, he told me he’d thrown them away years ago after I suggested he add up what they all cost in terms of board, mane braiding, outfits, accessories, feed, lessons, fees, and bribing people who judge horses on their knowledge of the alphabet.
I was disappointed the ribbons were gone; mostly on my own account. I was going to put them on my blog, to see if it would fool anyone into thinking I had won them for my posts and my own extensive knowledge of the alphabet. Now people will just have to decide without visual aids whether I know it or not.
If I am ever unsure myself, I can go out drinking and then drive home. When a cop pulls me over, he’ll ask me to recite the alphabet. If I don’t know it, he’ll put me in jail, and give me dry food and water.
Which is exactly what they do to the poor horses who don’t know their ABC’s. They are led back to their tiny cells, a hood over their eyes so they can’t identify their captors and are given dry food and water. After a few days of this, they’re ready to learn their ABCs.
Now that I know my opinions count for something among my friends, I may be more careful about the ones I express, but I doubt it. It is clear to me that I hold the key to changing the world, and I will start sending letters to the White House. The occupants are supposed to be interested in voters’ opinions. I’d always thought this was a fallacy, but if they are going to listen to some guy who doesn’t even speak English, it’s possible they’ll listen to me.
The lesson here is that you should always be careful about how much salt you add to a recipe. If you don’t like that lesson, you can take whatever lesson you want from this little story.
It makes no difference to me; I’ll still recite the alphabet at the drop of a hat.
4 thoughts on “Zen And The Art Of The Equestrian Alphabet”
Remarkable braid pattern. Think how patient (and talented) that horse had to be. And when it gets all tangled and full of hay, it has to be undone. Lets hope he/she has an equally patient and talented stall neighbor to help.
Aren’t they gorgeous? Carl told me what the braiders charge for that. It takes hours, and costs a lot.
A. B. Um. C….give me a hint…no, wait…D. D? D. H. Eleminopee. Y. Ta-da.
You should see my horse do it. He’s even better. My sister’s horse, actually. You wont believe this:
I forget what stage her horse is at (but I know he could tell you what’s wrong with this sentence already), but she is leisurely training him for dressage. By “leisurely” I mean she rides him 4 days a week, and if they progress, fine, if not, fine, and the whole operation costs the national budget of Argentina, as opposed to serious operators who spend that much on the apres’ ride champaign. Anyway, on one of my visits to watch i asked her how many of those required steppy things he could do, and she said about half, and that he could parts of the rest. “Well (at this point you know something stupid is coming), why dont you just knock those out next week”, I asked. Here’s the weird part. They dont speak English (so why does she talk to him like a 5 year old), and you cant use any verbal commands anyway, and no visual commands either, only minute pressure changes with legs, and if the judges see you doing even that they’ll know the horse cant really spell, and out you go. So you do what the horse does know to do over and over and over and over and over (I could go on) until he/she happens to get the next step right, which is of course mostly an accident, and then you immediately back up and do it again, and hope that the horse has associated what pressure you just applied with what he/she just did, and will reproduce it on command. No, really, I am not making that up. To do this is considered great fun and costs enough every year to buy several new cars. Yes, dressage costs more than college. So it is no wonder the horse can disassemble and reassemble the moon lander.
Loved this story. Typically you. Thank you for posting it.
I just “got wind” of this comment. Did not see a notification before. But that is exactly right. I’m not sure what all this has to do with riding and relaxing and seeing the countryside, but it is apparently very important that rich people do it and “keep it alive” as a national past time.
The horses are just “along for the ride.” They know a good thing when they see it.