I watched the Olympics every day for the two weeks that the games were on. Nothing special about that, you might think, except that this is not something I had planned to do, or expected to find myself doing. I don’t follow any kind of sport, or actively participate in any nowadays; when I was a child and then a teenager I was passionate about horse riding (though this was a long time ago), so I did think I’d probably watch some of the equestrian events.
What exactly it is about horses that just melts something inside me I’ll never know, but as always the sight of a horse and rider moving together in harmony never fails to catch me off guard. I am literally transfixed, rooted to the spot, and for a few moments I’m oblivious to everything else. I am in a different place.
What had me spellbound, as usual, was the dressage. This is partly because I know just how difficult it is and how long it takes to achieve the kind of level of skill and teamwork that you see in a partnership like this. It is really, really hard, and takes years and years of practice, so when you see a horse and rider out there in the arena moving with perfect balance, perfect harmony, every move flowing fluidly into the next with no apparent effort – and when the horse is just so incredibly beautiful; arched neck, head held high, full of controlled power and energy but at the same time relaxed, composed – well, you get the idea. I am unable to contain my emotions. (And incidentally, this is also true sometimes for the riders – Laura Bechtolsheimer was in tears herself as she finished the event that won her a bronze medal, and talking about it afterwards she said she was so emotional because of how much the horse had given her in that performance, putting everything he had into it. She said, ‘the thing is, it’s not like you’re just holding a tennis racket; it’s a live animal…’ or words to that effect – and it’s hard to find a way to describe how this sort of experience feels).
(This by the way is a picture not of Bertolscheimer but of Charlotte Dujardin who took the gold medal in the individual event, and put on a breathtaking display on Valegro; they deserved to win. )
The thing is though, for me it’s all a bit more complicated than this. It’s not only the sheer beauty of it all, the poetry in motion. It’s all tied up with the way I feel about the idea of horse and rider, not just the out-there-in-front-of-my-eyes reality of the thing. It’s a metaphor for the feeling or experience of coming home to yourself, and being who and how you really are and can be. We are at our best only when we are in a state of balance; collected, at peace in mind and body and soul – and this is not our usual state of being. So you can see why I find myself overwhelmed. It’s not something I can put into words easily, either. It gets me, every time, and when we switched to watching the BMX bike racing and my husband said, ‘well, this is more like it! The opposite of dressage!’ I kind of had to agree – it was a relief to feel simple excitement and be wowed by the thrills and spills for a while.