Two Horses, One Language

A wonderful opinion piece shared by Vickery Eckhoff. Our relationship with horses is one that is a learning process for both partners. ~ HfH

From: The New York Times
By: Susanna Forrest

Tav - photo by Susanna Forrest

Tav – photo by Susanna Forrest

Sasa’s name means “so-so” in Portuguese. It’s a little joke, because the gray lusitano gelding is anything but — he’s a beautiful horse who can, like many Iberian equines, claim descent from the war horses of the Renaissance. Look at Uccello’s “Battle of San Romano” and there’s Sasa’s likeness carrying a Florentine general: compact as a rubber ball, strong enough to balance on his hinds, and with a crested neck that ends in ears tilting forward like his rider’s lance.

I’ve begun riding lessons again, after more than a decade away, and I am trying to do it right. When I have the privilege to take a riding lesson with Sasa I feel as though I’m a boor in conversation with a gracious foreign diplomat who tolerates my inept forays into a shared language, one that more skilled riders use to communicate with him and other horses. He’s ranked tenth in the world for working equitation, a sport that combines dressage with the traditional cattle-working skills of the Iberian peninsula. With a better rider than I he can pirouette on the spot, but we stick to basic paces.

Our time in the manège is like one of those “tandem” meet-ups where native speakers make conversation in one another’s mother tongue for practice, although instead of halting exchanges about the day’s news and the latest movie, I tell Sasa what to do, and Sasa tries to understand. His neck curves away before me, as arched as a chess knight’s, and at the end, those two eloquent white ears. Like radar dishes they swivel to
concentrate on me, or on another horse nearby, or they drop sideways in semaphor for — what? — concentration or confusion? If I look down, I see my wobbling hands holding the reins as lightly as I can, so that the information I transmit down them to the metal bit in his sensitive mouth is a respectful but firm request and not an abrupt bark or a feeble “might I trouble you to halt?”

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AUTHOR: Amber Barnes
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