(© 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…
(“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.
(© 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.
(© Kip Mistral 2020. Painting by Alexander Pock 1940, Spanish Riding School Levade.)
When as a child I first read Marguerite Henry’s wonderful book about the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, titled “The White Stallion of Lipizza,” equally wonderfully illustrated by her creative partner Wesley Dennis, I was fascinated with the idea of a supremely orderly program of learning and teaching a venerable and highly cultivated horsemanship.
This was no haphazard affair like the way my friends and I learned to ride…we were told to get on, kick to go, pull back on the reins to stop and neck rein. Then off we tore with our kind-hearted and forbearing mounts, all asses and elbows for too long as we learned the hard way.
(Photographer unknown. Colorization by Kip Mistral.)
What is the story behind this old photograph? Let’s write it together…leave your version in a comment!