Father Mack’s Musings #4 from the WEG 2010 - People Want to See Cockroaches Crash

“Hey! Hawkeye! You goin’ down to the latrine for the cockroach races?
“Nah, I never go to those things. People who go to those things only want to see a cockroach crash.”

Dialogue between Hawkeye Pierce
& another member of the 4077th M*A*S*H

I have (on numerous occasions) told folks that I am the Trapper John McIntyre (or, perhaps more aptly compared, the Radar O’Reilly) to my respected colleague’s, Astrid Appel’s (she of our sister publication, “Eurodressage”), Hawkeye Pierce. By this comparison I mean to point out that Astrid’s expertise is akin to Hawkeye’s ability to resection a bowel even while sightless. I in this equation am competent, but I know my limitations.

Given my oft-told analogy, I am happy to make use of the exchange of dialogue from the television series M*A*S*H that introduces this article. No, I am not a great fan of cockroach races. I prefer my non-human competitors to be four rather than six-legged and considerably less icky.

Rather, I raise the issue of crashes at the outset because the absolute highlight of this third day of dressage tests (and I mean it sincerely when I say “the absolute”) at the 2010 WEG was (dare I type these words!?!) not about Edward Gal and Totilas. There I have gone and said it. Oh, yes, Mijnheer Gal and his noble steed had their afternoon in the sun (again!). Totilas was nearly flawless and Edward by his own admission managed not to interfere in the excellent work Totilas was laying down.

But to my ears the larger round of applause went to a horse and rider who avoided – unlike the cockroaches – a crash. The pair of which I write consists of Hans Peter Minderhoud and his coworker, Exquis Nadine (T.C.N. Partout x Roemer). I am very grateful that our editor and all around nice lady, Mary Phelps Hathaway, was in the right place at the right time and had the photographer’s weather eye to catch this image.

I may only describe the maneuver that Exquis Nadine is executing beneath the far-from-ecstatic Hans Peter as a capriole. With goat-like agility (the root of the vocable “capriole,” as in the Isle of Capri renowned for its goat farming acumen), during the pair’s final passage – piaffe tour down the centerline, Nadine leapt to the great surprise of her rider. When we in the audience had caught our breath after seeing that Hans Peter was not unseated by his temporarily unruly collaborator, and when the twosome had made their final salute at G, the outburst of applause was as deafening as it was well deserved.

Back, then, to the undercurrent theme of cockroaches crashing. No, I am not so banal as to think that thousands upon thousands of dressage aficionados turn out each year with hopes of seeing horse and rider crash. Far from it! Especially in the aftermath of Courtney King Dye’s amazing recovery from the unpredictable accident of this past March (which, I must add, has resulted in the largest article that the New York Times has published about dressage in the thirty plus years that I have been reading that rag http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/29/sports/29helmets.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss — (an article that includes some VERY interesting comments by Wednesday’s third-place finisher, our own Steffen Peters), nobody wants to entertain the possibility of a horse or rider being injured.

“Alright, already,” I hear you thinking, “so what is the take away lesson from Wednesday’s Grand Prix rides, Hans Peter Minderhoud’s not being unseated, and the crashing or non-crashing of cockroaches (let’s leave the latrine setting out of the picture for obvious reasons. Okay?) At long last I am able to place the emotional high point of this day (the mare Nadine’s aerial high jinks) and the more newsworthy story of Edward and Toto’s gold medal in the same frame.

The thread woven between these three segments is that of the inherent strength and physical capabilities of our friend the horse. The glorious vigor of the equine which God gave to him so that he could flee from predators or catch up with the wily mate, this capacity is that which Nadine showed in the maneuver I have called her “capriole.” It is the power of Totilas that Edward told journalists he knew his horse was channeling in the right direction, energy that the rider must not interrupt. A leg unwisely applied or another of the aids that might distract the horse could lead, if not to disaster, to a significantly lowered score.

We bystanders look on in awe while talented riders remain in the saddle as if glued thereunto. Spectators sit in awe and await their time to burst into applause at the sight of Edward Gal and Totilas seeming so natural and spontaneous in test after test. We breathe our sighs of relief that none of the participants crash – not even close – and that the games continue for the riders’ and for our delight. Let the good times roll on! Bring on Friday’s freestyle!