Four-Legged Ballet – Madeline Pettet
“Trot at C, canter at A.” The absolute tedium of dressage tests always puts me off ever competing again. It’s supposed to be horse ballet but it feels so rigid and stale. I know Alfie, my companion in these events, gets sick of them too, especially the practice. The first few times are okay, it’s something new but the same circles and same measured gaits easily become painful. Round and round we go. Doing it over and over until my mind is a swirl of equestrian terms and letters standing for arbitrary points of the arena. But without practice we’ll never win.
I throw the stack of potential tests to one side and put my head in my hands. There’s no choice about competing – the entry fee has been paid. I grit my teeth and go back to the tests. Even the names are dull: Intermediate Canter Test 1, Advanced Test 3. Dressage is supposed to be a beautiful thing, the joining of rider and horse as one graceful entity, but I don’t see that in these tests. On the very last page the dressage gods smile on us: Freestyle to Music. I can’t help but think that’s more our style.
“Alright, Alfie, let’s see what works.” I sit up straight in the saddle, pull out my phone and play the first track I see: Our House by Madness. As the guitar kicks in I get Alfie to trot. We move from one side of the arena to the other trying to get the feel of the song. I’m happy with the leg yielding at the chorus, the choppy rhythm easily matches Alfie’s diagonal movements but I just don’t feel the rest of it.
“Maybe something more recent, Alf?” I shake my phone so it automatically shuffles songs: Wide Awake by Katy Perry.
“You like Katy, don’t you?” We make our way around the arena more slowly this time, the beat lending itself to controlled trotting and cantering, nearly slower than his walk. The song ends and I get Alfie to halt. We sigh together.
“Yeah, it’s not exactly groundbreaking, is it? Sure it’s nice but nice isn’t going to cut it.” I let Alfie have his neck while I scroll through the hundreds of songs at my fingertips. He snatches the last of the reins from my hands so he can graze properly. The violent jerking sees my thumb select something: Gerudo Valley, an orchestral rendering of the music from one of the Legend of Zelda games.
I gather my reins back up, not bothering to admonish Alfie. The song plays out and we stay still. My head is a blur with all the memories I have of riding Alfie fast and dangerously, just enjoying the power he’s willing to share with me. Soon it feels like my heart is going to explode, there is a tightness squeezing it as I am overwhelmed with an emotion so intense I cannot name it.
The spell breaks as the last of the Spanish-like music fades away.
“Ready?” I click play once more and we’re off. Before it had been an effort to get Alfie to move in a way that complemented the music but now I didn’t have to think. We circle, leg yield, canter ,trot – everything we had ever hated in all those tests before. He is the perfect dance partner. We are finally as one.
It doesn’t matter if we come first or last in the competition – we have found our song.