“Who did this to her?”
My eyes scanned the silent faces of the stable hands as I laid my hand on Josephine’s steaming neck, listening to the black mare suck hard to get a breath of air. Her knees were bloody. All eyes were downcast under my ire.
I had heard the commotion as the horse was brought back to the stables at the Opera Garnier, where I was an equestrienne trainer and performer. Horses were frequently used in the operas and Josephine was my gentlest mare, a beautiful Dutch Friesian. She was poetry in motion, and I could guide her with nothing more than a wide ribbon around her neck. She and I had a scene in Meyerbeer’s “Prophète” in which we did just that, the mare’s steps performing a powerful ballet guided solely by my legs and the ribbon.
Again I glared at the men, stalking the circle around my winded, sweating horse. I tapped my riding crop against my green-topped boots, which just showed under my sturdy, tan twill divided riding skirt. My blue eyes blazed angrily at each of them and my chestnut braid flapped against my black blouse as I paced.
“Who did this to her,” I demanded again.
I caught a muttering toward the back, and turned toward the sound. One of the performers twisted his hat in his hands.
“Mademoiselle Claire, it was me,” said Giraud, the chief hand. “I was bragging on Josephine to some friends at the tavern, that you could ride her with nothing but a ribbon around her neck. I took her to show them, and they challenged me to a race. I tried her over a jump, and she couldn’t take it. She would have won.” His gaze on me grew defiant. “I lost twenty sous.”
“You fool,” I cried. “Josephine is not a hunter. She was trained for haute ecole. And now she will not be able to perform tonight.” I was close to tears listening to the poor mare’s labored breath, her head dropped to her ruined knees. “Messieurs Dupin and Richard will not be happy about this.” — Excerpt from In The Eye of The Beholder
Dressage is an equestrian discipline that derives from cavalry training. It was written about by Xenophon, in ancient Greece, and carries on today. Haute ecole (“high school”) is now referred to as classical dressage, to differentiate from modern dressage. The primary difference is that classical dressage includes “airs above the ground” like the capriole and levade, and modern dressage focuses solely on movements like tempi, piaffe, and passage. Before health issues stopped my riding, I was training in modern dressage.
If you’ve ever seen the Spanish Riding School Lipizzaners, you’ve seen haute ecole. If you’ve seen dressage in the Olympics, you’ve seen modern dressage.
If you’ve seen neither, here are examples of both. The first video is of the Spanish Riding School. The second is Andreas Helgstrand and his amazing mare, Blu Hors Matine. Enjoy!