Round-hoof’d, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long, broad breast, full eye,
small head and nostril wide, high crest, short ears, straight legs and passing
strong, thin mane, thick mane, broad buttock, tender hide: look, what a horse
should have he did mot lack, save a proud rider on so proud a back.
Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis
Nothing is more marvelous than sitting at a little table in the gathering dusk in the Piazza di San Marco, the guest of the six golden-bronze horses prancing away-to paradise. Then you know you are in the presence of the most immaculately beautiful creatures on the earth.
Through the periods of history the horse has heralded the arrival of the great event. He has carried the hero of the hour-Alexander, Caesar, Washington, Bolivar-along the paths of discovery and conflict and together they have returned triumphant-and history continues. A man mounted on his horse is twice the man he is on the ground. Indeed, the Arabs tell us that one aspect of earthly paradise is to be astride a horse. Such a man holds the reins of power and progress in his hands, for the horse has been the basis of the mobility of culture.
The horse possesses the fluid power of the perfect athlete, gleaming in the regal movements. The horse is the most sensitive piece of living beauty. The projection of the muscular jaw, the tension and the arc of the neck, the sinuous line of the back, and the splendid power of the leg- nothing is more enthralling than a well-loved horse. Man has long recognized the breeding of this animal. When a horse in ancient Arabia was seized in battle, the owner would present the conqueror with a pedigree so that, though himself vanquished, his horse might still receive the proper honors. Strength, stamina, size, spirit, power: it is the horse’s splendid perfection that inspires man.
The history of horse and rider is the history of the intense regard each has for the other. Churchill said, “When you are on a great horse, you have the best seat you will ever have.” It is said that Bucephalus, the favorite steed of Alexander the Great, was unmanageable and disagreeable to any save his master. Bucephalus would calmly kneel so that Alexander might more easily climb upon his sturdy back. We know that the saddest sight in the entire world is the solitary, riderless horse in a state procession.
The horse has created for man a particular and glorious world; in turn men and women have created a world appropriate to the intelligence and esprit of this remarkable animal. Nothing is too good for a horse. In the tackrooms of great stables, everything is attuned to his needs. Sensing the completeness of the horse, man has sought to equal, in raiment and accouterment, that simple splendor, that physical ideal. The highly refined domain of the horse is a polished, highly stylized realm reflecting the glory and exhilaration he inspires.
That domain calls forth the inherent glory of man. Tailors, bootmakers, and hatmakers alike know that men and women will never look as good as they do in their riding gear. The fit of the boots, the white suede breeches and racing silks, the saddle blankets thick with embroidery, the silver, gold, and bronze spurs and bits oiled and polished-there is nothing haphazard about the equestrian world. It is not a theatrical world: one dresses down to perfection. One dresses not for display but to meet the inspiration of the ideal. The splendid attire of the world of the horse is the fulfillment of man’s half of a covenant.
*Vreeland, Diana. Man and the Horse, (The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1984)