(© 2017 Kip Mistral. Featured image, The Clark Sisters, by Alfred Munnings. All images copyright estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, All rights reserved, DACS.)
Having recently discovered the prolific British Romantic art of Sir Alfred James Munnings (1878-1959) which ironically focuses on the kind of sunlit and backlit Edwardian idyllic pastoral countryside equestrian activities that I wish I could enjoy myself, out of curiosity I began to look into his long and interesting life. As a young man Munnings roamed his native countryside painting gypsies, horse fairs and races and hunt scenes with riders and packs of hounds. He later served Britain as a WWI war artist and thereafter roved the world documenting the mostly equestrian lifestyles of aristocratic and wealthy patrons. Munnings was lionized on both sides of the Atlantic as the finest equestrian artist, his friends including Sir Winston Churchill and any number of the highest-ranking persons in society and industry of the time. Today his paintings sell in the $7-8M range. But this is a man who made his way to a knighthood by his passion for horses and the outdoors, and a whole lot of hard work.
[NOTES FROM KM: Western master of lightness Roy Allen Yates (1930-2010) rode into my awareness on his QH stallion Tidys Chirp in San Juan Capistrano almost 20 years ago. He was giving a weekend clinic and it was an eye opener for certain. Trained by Roy, Tidys Chirp happened to be an AQHA Performance Champion with Superior Awards in Reining, Western Riding and Western Pleasure as well as a Register of Merit in Trail. At that time, Tidys Chirp held (and still may hold) the world record for the longest sliding stop of 66 feet. In a western saddle and western curb bridle, first Roy did a demonstration of reining and then he put Tidys Chirp to the sliding stop. They kept sliding and sliding until I thought they might go out the arena on the other end. Roy then excused himself for a 10-minute break, and to our amazement re-entered the arena on a proudly prancing Tidy’s Chirp tacked up in a dressage saddle, double bridle and dressage whip, and together they treated us to a demonstration of classical dressage, although I didn’t know what that was at the time. The horse was in perfect self-carriage, which I also didn’t know anything about at the time.]
[CONTEXTUAL NOTES FROM KM: Charles Owen Williamson’s name (1894-1977) was on everyone’s lips through the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s as the “go-to” Western trainer and instructor for riding across the disciplines. “Dr. Williamson is that rarity of rarities-a Western horseman who has had a wealth of experience in handling ‘wild’ horses, range-bred broncs, and yet understands the benefits of elementary, secondary and superior dressage, and can put them effectively to work. No theorist, he has spent a lifetime practicing what he teaches,” explains some of the flap text on his famous book “Breaking and Training the Stock Horse (and teaching basic principles of dressage)”
. (First published in 1950. My copy is sixth edition published 1976, Charles O. Williamson, Hamilton, Montana. Illustrations by Carl Hoobing and Sherman Hayes.)
(© Kip Mistral. First published in Equine Journal, August 2009. This article won a Second Place for Personality Profile in the 2010 American Horse Publication Annual Awards Program. Photographs courtesy of Sheila McLevedge.)
No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of our knowledge…If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.
~ Kahlil Gibran
An elegant silver-haired man and his silver horse proudly advance across still-green autumn grass, rusty-golden fall foliage rimming a field in the background. Rein gently slackened, the powerful horse in beautiful balance and collection, together they present the image of the quintessential ride… a moment of grace, of union between man and horse. The picture draws us in, symbolizing the quest so seductive to equestrians through time who have sought to share a moment of grace and union with their horses.
[© Sherry Ackerman, excerpt from “Dressage in the Fourth Dimension”, New World Library, 2008. Used with permission of the author.]
Philosophy is written in this grand book—I mean the universe—which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth.
~Galileo Galilei, Il Saggiatore (The Assayer), 1623
The earliest reference to dressage is found in the writings of the Greek historian and philosophical essayist Xenophon. Born in Athens around 430 BCE, Xenophon belonged to an equestrian family in the deme of Erchia. Early in his life, he had come under the influence of Socrates and had received schooling in classical geometry. Xenophon’s education led him to view geometry and numbers as components of the simplest and most essential philosophical language.