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London 2012

Dressage is not your average horse play

Dan Gorenstein Jul 31, 2012
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Kai Ryssdal: I blinked, so I might’ve missed it, but I think NBC squeezed about 25 seconds worth of dressage into its broadcast last night. The first round of equine events went off today. No spoilers here. Not gonna tell you who won. But you’ve surely heard the name of the most famous dressage athlete in this year’s games. Rafalca, the horse owned by Ann Romney. Thanks to her — the horse, not Mrs. Romney — dressage has had more publicity than perhaps ever before.

So we asked Dan Gorenstein from New Hampshire Public Radio what it takes to get involved with and excel in that rarefied, blue-blooded world.


Dan Gorenstein: First, there’s the horse.

“Mr. Ed” clip: A horse is a horse, of course, of course…

Uh, no. This isn’t about running the fastest or jumping the highest — dressage horses are ballet dancers.

Pamela Goodrich: We do movements that are very, very difficult. These horses, it’s like dancers.

Pamela Goodrich has a long barn full of dressage horses.

Goodrich: It’s feeding time at the zoo.

Goodrich explains to me how precise and technical the moves are. Horses must canter in perfect tight circles; shift gaits every stride, so they look like they’re skipping. The art is to coax a 1,200 pound beast to go against its instincts and love it. Not easy for a novice like me.

Goodrich: My recommendation for you would be to get a professor, to teach you.

Goodrich introduces me to a horse named Lamborghini.

Goodrich: And he is a Lamborghini, very spicy to ride.

Pretty hot price tag, too, if he were for sale.

Goodrich: $60,000 to $100,000.

The professor can’t do all the teaching. I need a trainer.

Katherine Dow: Yu should probably be on your horse six days a week, the seventh day at lesat doing something with it.

Someone like Katherine Dow. She also says I need to hit the gym — hard.

Dow: You are going to need to spend time at the gym because you’re going to have to work on your core strength.

Dow tells me top riders get their horses to make all these intricate moves subtly — to win, it must look effortless.

Dow: You want to look like it’s a partnership and the harmony between you and your horse.

Speaking of looks, elegance in dressage is essential.

Janet Nittmann: Welcome to Dover Saddlery.

Janet Nittmann of the tack store Dover Saddlery shows me to a changing room, where my finery awaits. In dressage the clothes capture both the fussiness and the grandeur — some would say opulence — of the sport. White britches, top hat, silk tie, white gloves and an antiquated cut of a coat the shadbelly.

Nittmann: Short waist at the front and then the long tails at the back. So sophisticated. A judge can’t help but be influenced by a beautifully turned out rider.

I slip on the coat.

Gorenstein: Wow.

Nittmann: You look good, dressed for the part.

Nittmann itemizes what I’m wearing. Shadbelly.

Nittmann: $879.

Top hat.

Nittmann: $400.

Britches.

Nittmann: $379.

Gloves.

Nittmann: $62.

Silk tie.

Nittmann: $100.

And custom boots start at…

Nittmann: $1,000.

That doesn’t include anything for the horse, like a saddle. Nittmann says there’s a range, but if I work my way to the top, it’s going to cost me.

Nittmann: We are talking over $12,000.

Now, there’s just one last thing to do — go see a loan officer.

I’m Dan Gorenstein for Marketplace.

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