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The Horse Crucified and Risen / Book - “The Horse Crucified and Risen” (Horse Encyclopaedia) by Alexander Nevzorov
An extract from the chapter “People”
Italy. Verona. The same city where, if we are to believe Shakespeare and Dzeffirelli , curly-headed boys in two-tone pants prodded each other on towards the roadway with their swords, declaiming charming and exalted nonsense.
Every year in Verona there is a gigantic international horse fair known as the Fiercavalli.
In essence, all of the large horse fairs, whether in France, or Germany, or here in Italy, are awfully similar.
Everywhere the Spaniards in hats push their way through pompously on their long-maned, large-eyed Andalusians with their noses rubbed sore by their mediacanas until they bleed. They are crowded from behind by passionate, gold-embroidered ladies demonstrating an imitation of a school walk on wheezing Lusitanos paralysed by the pain of their hellish bits. After them come the spitting cowboys, who have clearly invested their lifetime’s energy in acquiring and wearing outrageously large chaps chaparejos of incredibly thick leather with an incredible number of silver plates, as well as very shiny spurs.
And all this is gawked at by the obligatory character with the idiot camera, whose mouth has been hanging open so long that you could easily count all the half-chewed pieces of popcorn without hurrying. It’s the same everywhere. In Paris and in Verona, it’s always the thickest part of the fairground crowd that the coarse characters in stainless steel armour carrying [striped imitations of lances]/?/ choose to push their way through.
In Paris and in Verona, there are always blue-legged, half-witted offspring in underpants and velvet-covered helmets roaring and sticking their heads out through the curtains of the fitting room while their mothers choose redingotes and breeches for them from the hangers. And meanwhile the poor Camargue wander past the fitting cubicles on the way to their show – they are the French island horses that the public simply drools over, but without noticing that the noseband worn by all the Camargue, that is, the upper strap to the bridle, which applies pressure to the nose and ensures that the mouth does not open, is made out of a rusty bicycle chain. Everything in Verona is the same as everywhere else.
Except that Verona’s Fiercavalli is even more stifling than the other gigantic horse fairs. And now just imagine a plump, paralysed woman of about forty riding through this mish-mash of dazed and besotted shoppers in a wheelchair, illuminating the crowd with the bright gaze of a medieval martyr or witch.
She is accompanied by a black, an immense, fabulously stately, shaggy-legged horse of the Frisian breed. The horse lowers, growls and puts its ears back when people do not make way for the wheelchair quickly enough. Its black, hook-nosed head is always right there beside the head of the woman in the wheelchair, always just above it. These two are Silk Valentine and Biko.
Silk has simply earned her living at Verona and all the other similar events by taking part in the general performances of the Parelli school and making personal appearances of her own. She has always attracted audiences of thousands everywhere, including here in Verona. Crowds of horse lovers from all over the world, accustomed to pain and suffering as the norm in our relations with horses, have frozen in total bewilderment on first seeing Silk and Biko. When the queen of England invited Silk and Biko and saw them with her own eyes for the first time, she did not even try to hide her tears. She is not the only one.
Everywhere that Silk gives open lessons or a show the audiences either sit there in stunned dead silence, or erupt into stormy applause, or weep. What Silk demonstrates is not professional skill. It beyond skill. Biko walks beside her wheelchair with a school walk, passage and piaffe, performs fairly good pesades and flying changes , lies down, sits up makes backing up and pirouettes … He is absolutely free. He is free, not only because there are no bridles or halters on him, but also because his master , his person, cannot even get up and take a single step. She cannot always even reach out and touch him with her hand.
But always, without exception, the black remains absolutely devoted and absolutely obedient. When Silk first met Biko, the horse was an ordinary young stallion, and like all young stallions he was convinced that people are terrible scum. But Silk fell in love with Biko immediately. When she dared to approach too close in her wheelchair, Biko went wild, plucked the enamoured Silk out of her wheelchair with his teeth and dragged her across the riding hall. She didn’t cry out. And she couldn’t resist.
The next day she boldly rode right up to him again, and Biko lashed out at the wheelchair with all the power of his hind legs, overturning the chair and Silk in it. Bold and young, overflowing with strength and understanding everything about human beings, like all horses he was prepared to do battle with people. And with any person. With people’s ropes, their bits, their meanness and their cruelty. But Biko had no idea at all of the bewitching power of human love. In order to develop a relationship with this horse, Silk went to study, she studied with Parelli, but it was not the “Seven Games” that helped her to achieve an absolute miracle.
In order to win the horse’s heart, she employed the primary human weapon – one that the horse had not encountered before. This was absolutely unvarying and consistent integrity in their relationship with each other, absolutely unvarying equality. No straps, no ropes, no irons. And also boundless patience and boundless courage. And the black hooligan melted, he opened his heart to the woman called Silk Valentine. They became friends.
The horse proved quite capable of developing the most subtle and incredible relationship. Parelli, realising perfectly well the huge promotional potential the image of an invalid who had befriended a very rowdy and freedom-loving horse thanks to his system, set himself up as Silk’s patron, taking her round the world as living proof of the effectiveness of his teaching.
As you have already learned, Silk had gone considerably beyond Pat’s teaching, in some points surpassing the bounds of skill authorised in Natural Horsemanship, but the marketing impact was so great that Parelli preferred not to notice this. His calculation was correct. She was no young, ambitious and dangerous Honza. I think that Silk understands all this.
But her gratitude to Pat for everything that he did for her will probably never allow her to withdraw from Parelli’s system. In her native Germany she has hundreds of pupils who come because they are attracted by her image rather than by Parelli’s teaching. But she prefers not to dwell on that that either. And she serves honestly as an instructor at the “4+” level in Parelli’s German branch. She is very faithful to Pat. I had occasion to give her Haute Ecole classes. There was not even a hint of betrayal in her coming to me in Russia – she received all the necessary benedictions from the head of Natural Horsemanship, charged the batteries of her wheelchair, took a “carrot stick”, a fur hat with earflaps (it happened to be August at the time) – and plunged into the plane.
As I came to realise, she too had begun feeling troubled by a certain simplistic side to Natural Horsemanship, the fact that the practices of its school lacked a technique for giving a horse the correct balance, for instance, for the Spanish trot or the centavo. But every master of the trade feels the same sacred itch – to raise the complexity of the various elements to ever higher levels. A horse is a fabulously talented creature.
When you sense this, you want to go on and on uncovering this talent, mastering and teaching ever new elements and figures. When this is done in play, practically at liberty, without any means of coercion, not even the most incredible exercises can ever cause the horse any harm.
And she proved to be a diligent and fabulously talented pupil. As I also discovered, her visit also had a certain charming hint of espionage about it – as they prepared her for the journey, the practitioners of the Parelli method had instructed her to find out the secret of free collection. And when she rode into the riding hall in her wheelchair, like an honest person she told me all about it. In general, everything in my riding hall was done honestly. She studied complex elements and I studied her. And I still couldn’t say who learned most from the other.
Of course, in her own right Silk, in her wheelchair, with her Biko or other horses, possesses the unimpeachable status of a great proof of the wisdom of horses and their ability to befriend with a human being, when that human being is not an idiot and not a sportsman. This much is clear, and it requires no further commentary.
Furthermore, whereas with other great trainers it is possible to attribute certain things to energy and technique, to the ability to whip or excite a horse with a crazy game, by frisking and running around with it – in Silk’s case nothing at all can be attributed to such things. Silk is practically immobile. A motorised wheelchair, even a German one, may be a very useful thing and very manoeuvrable, but it is no good for interacting with a horse. And in addition, Silk is defenceless.
If Perst, for instance, gets carried away during play and lunges at me with all the force of his six hundred kilograms of live weight, then I will dodge, step back, slip a millimetre out of the reach of his hooves or his chest, but Silk cannot do this. I can put energetic insistence into teaching a complex element. I am standing there, the language of my movements is perfectly understandable to the horse, I will touch its hind leg, chest or belly in time with my twig– I will always prompt it.
In the final analysis, I will mount the horse and explain everything that cannot be explained to the horse at liberty or in hand from above, through the classical play of my own weight across its back, by transferring my weight on to its forelegs or hips, by mobilising the muscles of its crupper or shoulder blades.
Silk is apparently incapable of doing all this by virtue of being bound to her wheelchair – and yet her Biko, and her other horses too, are perfectly well trained and always behave with perfect tact with her.
On the first day of Silk’s studies she was followed in through the huge open doors of the riding hall by a hawk rooked-beaked, bright-feathered, raucous. know him very well, he often comes calling.
He will make a terrible mess with the feathers as he disembowels one of the fat-faced, pampered sparrows or pigeons in the riding hall, make a stupid clacking noise with his bloody beak – and instantly disappear back out through the doors that stand wide open in the summer.
But this time, instead of setting about his usual plunder, he began tracing out crooked circles above the wheelchair and screeching more loudly than usual. He landed on the ground, something that hawks never do in the presence of people or horses. He drooped his wings and froze with his incredible stare locked on to the glittering spokes of the wheelchair. And then he shifted the stare of those piercing yellow eyes to Silk’s face. And the way he shifted them! With such carnivorous insolence!
Instantly, ruthlessly, he noted her defencelessness and weakness. And any horse is a thousand times more intelligent that any hawk. And also – according to the logic of this world – a horse ought not to forgive weakness. But it does.
Even my headstrong, passionate horses, given to unruly behaviour, treated her with the utmost delicacy, without even attempting to provoke her into those forms of play to which they were used in their contact with people. Silk is a phenomenally powerful and bold challenge to the entire equine world, which is used to solving every difficulty with “iron”, beatings or suffering and still cannot solve anything. But she is the embodiment of apparently total helplessness, and even if she wanted to insult or punish, she could not physically do it – and yet she can teach a horse everything she wants so easily, so magnificently.
I have seen how easily she can “sense” an entirely unknown, arrogant horse. She also “sensed” my horses, and they “sensed” her. I cannot describe exactly how she trains horses from her wheelchair and teaches them complex elements. Although that is probably the most interesting thing of all.
There is no secret – it is simply done by taking a lot of time, with calm affection and affability, and it is quite indescribable, like any painstaking, delicate work. She rode across the surface of the riding hall beside me in her wheelchair, following, spellbound, the movements of the twig on the horses’ legs. I handed her the twig – and she calmly repeated everything herself. Silk’s eyes would blaze with mischievous delight and she would clench her plump little fist and shake it in the air when she got something right. And she almost always got everything right. The hawk did not come back again that August.
She understood how to teach the balance even for the Spanish trot – and went hurrying back to her black, hook-nosed Biko. Through her performances, her teaching and the way she relates to all horses, Silk has proved something very important to herself and the world. She has proved that any problems in the relations between man and horse are merely the direct consequence of stupidity and spite on the part of man. And nothing more. Without the stupidity and spite, there are no problems.