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domingo, 9 de mayo de 2010

‘Fit for a King’—The Dancing Stallions

‘Fit for a King’—The Dancing Stallions

ANTICIPATION grows keen as the lights are completely turned off. Suddenly, our ears are filled with stirring music. Spotlights beam through the darkness to reveal the spectacular entrance of a line of fabulous Andalusian stallions and their world-famous descendants—the Lippizaners. Bedecked in finery, ridden by men and women dressed as Spanish nobility, the gleaming white stallions stand silhouetted against velvet darkness—a feast for the eyes!

And now, to the accompaniment of music, they begin their graceful movements called haute école (“high school” figures). One stallion sits back on his hindquarters at a 45-degree angle. He holds this position (which requires tremendous balance and muscle control) until signaled to return to his feet. This movement is called the levade. Another demonstrates the courbette. The horse stands tall on his hind legs and then makes a series of little hops. Yet another move is the piaffe, in which the horse trots in place like a soldier marking time, lifting his legs high in a graceful, slow movement.

Most spectacular of all, though, is the capriole, a move reserved for only the most talented of the dancing stallions. The horse finds his tempo and leaps several feet into the air, drawing his forelegs under his chest. At the sound of a snap of a whip, the horse kicks his back legs straight out behind him. For a moment in time, the horse looks like the legendary winged horse Pegasus.

Over the years, thousands have thrilled to these magnificent animals at various shows. Few in the audience, though, realized that these graceful movements were originally not intended to entertain but, rather, were designed to instill fear! Yes, at one time the dancing Andalusian was a lethal weapon of war.

Fit for a King

The Andalusian is no ordinary steed, as his bloodlines date back to the eighth century. At that time the Moorish princes from Africa invaded Southern Spain and crossed their desert-bred barbs with the agile horses of the Iberian Peninsula. Some thus call them the oldest recorded breed in the world. Here was a horse that in ancient times was worth a bag of gold. And even today, some prized stallions are valued at about $200,000 (U.S.) apiece!

But what makes this horse so valuable? William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle of the 17th century, put it this way: “He is the most noble of horses that exists in the world. The most beautiful. The most worthy of being ridden by a king in his triumphant day and I praise his intelligence, docility and courage.” It is thus no surprise that Richard the Lion-Hearted gained victory over the Saracens of Cyprus while he was mounted on a white Andalusian, nor that author Sir Walter Scott chose to put his fictional character Ivanhoe on one.

From early on, its breeders saw the Andalusian’s potential as a war-horse. And those graceful moves that now thrill audiences were death-dealing on the battlefield. The mere sight of a king mounted on this magnificent war machine would strike fear into the hearts of many a foot soldier.

Brave but Gentle

The Andalusian’s days of mounted warfare are over. However, because of the steed’s lionhearted spirit, unfortunately it is sadly misused in the infamous Spanish bullfights! Mounted by a bullfighter, or rejoneador, the Andalusian fearlessly confronts fast-starting, quick-turning, dangerous fighting bulls. When the bull charges at the horse, the rejoneador waits for the right moment to lean over and plant two banderillas in the bull’s shoulder.

This is not to say, however, that the Andalusian is by nature a warlike beast. Surprisingly, they are rather gentle, gentle enough for a lady to mount them. But stallions may be more difficult to handle at times. And during mating season, they may fight one another over a mare. But, generally, Andalusians seem to get along well with one another. At one place, some 30 stallions and one mare were stabled, one next to the other. Yet their noble breeding came to the fore; they stood quietly as if they were perfect gentlemen.

g85 12/8 pp. 26-27

Bailando / Dancing

Andalusian. Austria - Spain Haute école (“high school”)

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