Alright, I have to admit, reading Krista’s posts last week made me a bit homesick for the RAWF, so I thought I’d have my own fun here in the UK. On Friday I managed to see the opening night of the Spanish Riding School’s performance at Wembley Arena with Carl Hester and Natasha Baker providing Special Performances beforehand. Although there was no Ian Millar, Tim Horton’s or poutine in sight, I must say, it made me feel a whole lot better.
Double Paralympic Equestrian Gold Medalist and 5-time European Champion, Natasha Baker started the night off with an entertaining freestyle to the Black Eyed Peas ‘I Gotta Feeling’. This flawless performance was made even more breathtaking as she dismounted in front of the large crowd and explained that she suffers from Transverse Myelitis, a condition that has left her with permanent nerve damage and severe weakness in her legs. Unable to use her legs whilst riding, Natasha controls her horse entirely through verbal commands and seat movements which, as any rider can appreciate, is an absolutely awe-inspiring accomplishment.
Carl Hester and his student, Henriette Andersen then provided a mini clinic for the crowd. They went through the dressage moves step by step and explained what the riders were asking from their horses when they demonstrated flying lead changes, canter pirouettes, passage and piaffes. This was a great touch for the performance, as it made the Lipizzaner stallions more accessible and comprehensible for the general public. On top of that, the fact that we were in the same arena as Carl Hester- member of the Gold medal winning British Dressage team in the London 2012 and owner of the infamous British stallion, Valegro… well that was enough to make my head spin and I’m sure it was the reason many other Dressage fans were in the audience! Nip Tuck’s flying changes alone made the journey to London totally worthwhile!
The stallions however did not disappoint. Founded in 1565, the Spanish Riding School is the oldest riding academy in the world. It is dedicated to practicing and perfecting the art of Classical Horsemanship and is grounded on the notion of utmost tradition. For example, riders are expected to train their stallions throughout all the levels of the riding school, starting from basic dressage movements through to ‘Schools Above the Ground’. This means that most riders will develop a bond with their horses that can last over 20 years. Tradition also dictates that one bay or dark bay Lipizzaner must be present in every performance, to serve both as a good luck charm and also to symbolise a time when Lipizzaner’s were not predominantly white.
Classical horsemanship reaches as far back as the 4th century B.C when the horse’s natural movements were honed to help in military exercises. To clear a path in the battle field a rider could perform one of the trained movements such as the Levade, the Capriole or the Courbette. All three of these movements are clearly demonstrated on two separate occasions during the performance; the first with a session ‘On the Long Rein’ and the second in the act ‘Schools Above the Ground’ which is demonstrated under saddle (and the riders are without stirrups).
Although the ‘Schools Above the Ground’ is one of the highlights of the performance, my personal favourite was the finale, the ‘School Quadrille’. This is when a minimum of eight stallions perform classical dressage movements in a unique choreography and in perfect harmony. The technical skill and concentration that is demanded from both the horses and riders is unfathomable and it is truly amazing when it all pieces together to create a ‘mirror image’.
If given the opportunity, I strongly recommend going to see The Spanish Riding School perform. It truly is an unforgettable experience!