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Un Cheval de Phidias

Un Cheval de Phidias

(Excerpt from Un Cheval de Phidias, by Victor Cherbuliez, Michel Lévy Frères, Libraires Editeurs, Paris, 1864. Translated by A. Forbes Sievering, 1905.)

“Look at this horseman wearing his Arcadian pilos, draped in his closely-folded mantle, the fringe overhanging his leg. See how their poses, their attitudes go together; how the head of the rider leaning forward and gently bowed over his breast responds to the undulating movement of the horse’s crest; and how all these lines compose that delicious melody of forms, which modern sculpture has not been able to reproduce. And then observe that this unison of lines and movements is only the emblem of the concert of souls and thoughts. In both man and horse the same ease, the same surrender–no effort–a vigour self-assured, and revelling in free play. Incontestably the rider commands, but it is hardly noticeable–he acts upon the horse by imperceptible aids, united to it, like the human bust to the quadruped in the Centaur: the education which the horseman has received is transmitted to the horse. Both have the same family likeness, the same grace, the same strength, the same gentleness, the same pride–exhaling the dignity of a free heart mastered only by reason. Riders and horsemen have all been educated between the soft Attic sky, amid the olives of the Academy and the laurels of Cephisius, within sight of sacred Hymettus, in the lifetime of Pericles, Aspasia, and Socrates. Riders and horses all received in heritage that beauty of the soul which Athenian education cultivated. Riders and horses have all learned that music which produces, in the language of Plato, the harmony of souls and the immutable order of the Universe.”

NOTE: Phidias is generally acknowledged to have been the greatest ancient Greek sculptor and instigator of the classical style of the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. He is thought to have directed and supervised the construction of the Parthenon including its sculptural decoration.

I Call Myself Stradivarius

I Call Myself Stradivarius

Image “Cream Colored Stallion” by Johann Georg Hamilton. (© 2020 Kip Mistral.)

I am a real horse, but I’ve changed my name here to protect the innocent…and not-so-innocent.

I call myself Stradivarius because I was created to be an instrument of the highest quality, for a human of the highest quality, one who would learn to understand and value the brilliance and complexity of my nature. The original string instruments of the master Antonio Stradivari were made in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and they were, as they are still, considered the finest in the world. The rare few remaining today, whether in museums or still being played, lie almost beyond price. Because of their age, their wood is in a slow state of decomposition and detachment in their fibers from centuries of vibrations from being played, and microscopic shrinkage from evaporation. Yet is it ironic that many of the top violinists feel the old instruments have, just because of these factors, an even richer and more expressive sound today than they did when they were born? No, I don’t think so.

Because in the same way, my family and those similar to us were created across the sea. For centuries we were nurtured and protected within traditions that had very specific goals for us. We were selected to be straight forward and workmanlike, and extremely strong to be able to perform great feats of athleticism even into old age. We were made to be very intelligent so as to be able to grasp the highest demands of training, so we are not simple. In fact, we are specialists. And we were given high expectation of respectful treatment, since we have been honored and cherished as jewels in the crowns of our native cultures for hundreds of years.

For our families, this expectation, I am sad to say, is disappointed often today. We can be passed from person to person, as I have been, persons who unfortunately wrongly assume that they could be a match for specialists such as we are. Such a person can break a whip on our body, as has been done to mine, but that will not give us the trust that will inspire us to be a stalwart partner and give our best, and our love. But with respect, fairness, patience, and compassion…we will become yours and keep getting richer, like a Stradivarius, with time.

I am still waiting patiently for that human of the highest quality, who I hope is on their way to me and may be right around the corner. I am waiting in the green field.


The Treacherous Water Horse

The Treacherous Water Horse

(© Kip Mistral 2020. “The Bäckahäst“, artist unknown.)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…especially if it’s a loch or pool in Scotland…

Unless you are a reader of Celtic or Scandinavian mythology, you wouldn’t for a moment suspect that the log or overturned boat you find innocently floating in a lake might suck you into the depths and eat you if you approach it. You might catch a glimpse of its baleful, phosphorescent stare, but probably you won’t have time to notice it looks like a black horse.

A black horse with a beautiful, gossamer mane that floats in the breeze and a tail that trails the ground, that on another occasion might prance up to you inviting you to ride, but once you have mounted, you can’t get off, and it plunges with you aboard into the nearest deep water and, well, you know the rest…

Or, being a shape-shifting water spirit, it can look like a human, tricking you to believe it friendly, like that person you thought was nice, and as you grow closer with the speed of a shark it will turn back into that black horse, who will drag you off to the pond and, you know…

I think we’re all a little cranky these days and this Nordic Bäckahäst looks how I feel, personally. And those of you with black horses, especially the ones with long manes and tails who look annoyed, you might be best to stay far away from lochs or pools…

Do You Know Where Your Right Leg Is?

Do You Know Where Your Right Leg Is?

(“The Two Horse Act,” color lithograph originally published in 1874 by Gibson & Co, Cincinnati)

I had to laugh when I wanted a feature image for this post and this amusing Victorian circus act image that I saved some time ago floated up to the top of my extensive gallery of artwork.

Everything about this image is fascinating. The audience as a group oddly seems to be either looking in front of the “two horse act” or behind it. Yet each person’s individualistic face and his or her details from headwear to clothing is drawn carefully. The mustachioed rider understandably has a preoccupied expression, balanced atop two horses as he is, guiding them (on loose reins, I might add!) as they run at frenetic speed in a small ring, and at the same time holding out a perky lass with golden ringlets who stands with her right foot on his manly thigh…with her left ankle extended out of sight.

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Book Review: “Dressage Principles and Techniques: A Blueprint for the Serious Rider” by Miguel Tavora

Book Review: “Dressage Principles and Techniques: A Blueprint for the Serious Rider” by Miguel Tavora

(© 2020 Kip Mistral. Images and excerpts used with permission of the publisher Xenophon Press.)

“The horse must always feel comfortable in all equestrian activities. This is how we show him our love and respect.” 

I read books about classical training and riding techniques all the time (and have even co-authored one), but I find “Dressage Principles and Techniques” by renowned Portuguese classical dressage trainer Major Miguel Tavora, published by Xenophon Press in 2018, to be extraordinary.

It is extraordinary because this author is able to teach a complete, well-illustrated program of basic classical equitation and training in great detail, and combine high seriousness about the importance of classical method and technique with repeated reminders to treat the horse with understanding, kindness, love and respect…all this written in simple and easy-to-follow language, in only 158 pages. Those 158 pages will take you from terminology and theory to first longeing to work in-hand to canter pirouette, piaffe and passage. Finally, here is the thought-provoking yet very useful book you really can take to the barn.

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