Horse riding abstraction

Sarma Feb 2013English

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Contextual note
This text is the performance script used by Rémy Héritier in his 'walk+talk' at Tanzquartier Wien in March 2008. It was first published on Sarma as part of the Anthology walk+talk.

As a child and then an adolescent, I was used to riding ponies and horses; I’ve been learning how to mount for more than ten years. I’ve experienced (like many children) how to communicate with that kind of animal; to communicate in order to ask the animal to do something for or with me, like walking forward slowly or rapidly, stopping, turning right or left, walking sideways, etc. So you have to find out what you do have in common, and what you could share in order to get what you want to from the animal. There are several techniques, but you also have to discover by yourself and develop some tricks.

For me horse riding is a matter of dissociation or abstraction, because when you want to get something, you’re facing the fact that you’re not speaking the same language. You have to make some transfers: you have to put your goals aside for a while yet keeping them strongly in mind; in order to fulfil your desire you're going to work on another goal; your satisfaction will occur as a consequence.



There are three physical elements you’ve got to deal with: weight – balance – gaze. You have to combine and associate these three elements according to special parameters in order to use your weight to bring the horse out of balance.

The gaze is the visible part of your intention; in previewing what you’re going to do, you are giving proprioceptive information to the horse. The concentration on your gaze provides you with some tiny physical modifications. (This also relates to Feldenkrais experiences.)

If you want to go forward, you have to bring the horse out of balance; and to do so you have to put your own weight out of balance. The horse’s reaction is to “fall” forward in order to recover its balance; if you keep your position, the horse is literally running after its balance. That’s very schematic but true.

It's the same situation as if you were holding someone on your shoulders. If that person bends a bit forward, you have to take a step forward in order not to fall down. If that person now bends backward, it is more or less stopping you.



Constraints are a way to get what you want from the horse. I’m thinking about physical constraints that effect the horse’s balance, such as weight shifting. You know, when you decide to gallop you have to do a series of gestures, which provide the gallop by doing all these gestures at the same time. These gestures are just some constraints, which are bringing the horse out of balance (the “out of balance process” you’ve decided to be in) in order to gallop. I could say that everything you would ask a horse to do is bring its weight out of balance in order to get something else (your goal, I would say). All the techniques we’ve learnt and invented to communicate with a horse are all about weight shifting; shifting our weight in order to shift the horse’s weight.

That’s a physical situation to improve abstraction.

All the techniques we’re using in horse riding are for me related to a definition of abstraction. I think it is about abstraction because it is always a question of reaching our goal (taking a left, galloping, walking backward…) by working and putting our concentration on something else. The thing we have to achieve is not the thing we want to get. To gallop we’ve got to concentrate ourselves on something that has nothing to do with galloping (from a biped perspective). We have to work hard on something to obtain what we desire as a consequence of it. In a way the result (the gallop for instance) is a “collateral damage” of the whole process.



Many notions or issues we have to involve in the practices of both dance and horse riding are similar: the awareness, the peripheral gaze, the weight issue, the balance issue, etc. But also the relationship with the present from the perspective of a constant analysis of what has happened and what could happen in the near future, what kind of potentialities (that is the future) you can expect from your analysis, and what kind of decision you’ve got to take. Many other issues find their source in these issues.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that horse riding was my first dance and my first performance education, because, as I’ve already said, the tasks are very similar and both practices share one communal language.