The familiar figure seen on horseback on these pages, frequently described as the most golden salesman of our day, is here engaged in an unfamiliar pursuit—one which, of all the many things he does, is probably closest to his heart. To Arthur Godfrey the business of learning with his horse Goldie the intricate and beautiful art of dressage is one of the major fascinations in his life, and if in the process he sells dressage to others—well, so much the better. Dressage badly needs a salesman. Until recently it was almost unheard of in this country by the general public and all but unpracticed by the horseman. But now this time-tested style of schooling is attracting some overdue attention. There are several reasons—besides Godfrey's—for this.
The disbanding of the U.S. Cavalry in 1942 was the most important one. It opened the way for civilians—and, since 1952, women, who form such a large part of the riding populace—to compete in the Olympic Equestrian Games, which include dressage tests. Interest in dressage developed slowly but steadily; last week in Allendale, N.J. the first dressage competitions ever to be held in a U.S. horse show drew a surprising number of entries to face judgment by imported experts, and rumors flew anew about a projected U.S. school of dressage.
But if the vision of being one of three riders on the dressage team of the quadrennial Olympic event is broadening the base of interest, the constant efforts on behalf of the sport by Godfrey are likely to result in horsemanship recruits by the box stall load. By enthusiastically discussing dressage on his TV and radio programs, he has made the term almost a household word and he has made it a recognizable accomplishment by demonstrating it in special exhibitions at horse shows of high caliber, among them the Harris-burg, Pa. event now in progress, New York's National, which follows (Oct. 30-Nov. 6), and Toronto's Winter Fair (Nov. 9-17).
Godfrey makes no pretense of being an expert. "As far as the high school of dressage is concerned," he says, "I'm still in grade school. But Goldie and me, we're learning." Nor is he ignorant of the fact that his simple presence on a horse creates considerable interest—his horse show act with Goldie (full name, Catactin Gold) is shrewdly balanced between elements of international Grand Prix dressage and the more obviously spectacular high school tricks of the circus. So, in intervals between Goldie's saying his prayers, making like a camel and spinning on a pedestal, the uninitiated spectator is painlessly acquainted with the passage, the piaffe, pirouettes—and even such fundamentals of horsemanship as changing diagonals at the trot and leads at the canter. Since he wears a portable microphone during his exhibitions, Horseman-Showman-Salesman Godfrey can and does explain his moves as he rides.
October 29, 1956
To be sure, there are those inclined to curl the lip slightly and state that this is not Olympic dressage, but no one is more aware than Godfrey of just what he is doing and why; what he wants to learn and how soon he can learn it.
"We're both just learning," he is apt to say over the loudspeaker as he goes through a maneuver in the ring, "but if Goldie makes any mistakes, it's my fault."
Other horsemen, as well informed as the lip curlers, are genuinely appreciative of his role as ambassador-at-large on behalf of dressage in particular and the horse and horse showmanship in general.
Besides his keen interest in the art of riding, Godfrey quietly picks up the tab on a monthly magazine devoted to horses and, with his wife, shares a lively interest in hunters and Arabians. But dressage is his paramount interest, and all riding horses at his Beacon Hill farm are given training in dressage to develop flexibility, balance, lightness and responsiveness. Thereby he recognizes the true aims of dressage, a term which has been swallowed whole into the English language and is succinctly denned by Webster's as being "the guidance of a mount through a set of maneuvers without perceptible use of the hands, reins, legs, etc." It comes from the French verb dresser, to train (a horse, dog or whatever animal); but as any riding or driving horse must receive training of some degree, dressage actually implies training beyond ordinary training—training to the point of extraordinary refinement. The Spanish Riding School in Vienna since 1735 has consistently trained horses in this fashion, with spectacular success, and has even been able to teach a horse to capriole at command—a movement generally made only by fighting stallions.
Formal dressage tests (which do not include the capriole) are held under the rules of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) and are conventionalized to a high degree. They demand great skill and sensitivity on the part of both horse and rider. The order in which the maneuvers must be done, as well as the precise number of steps and their exact location in a defined area, is as carefully ordained as school figures in a figure skating championship. During the course of the exacting exhibition, horse and rider must look and be calm, comfortable and in control while still displaying animation and verve. It is small wonder that the subleties of such an equine science can escape or baffle a newcomer; and it is also completely comprehensible that so few people have the combined virtues of patience and fortitude necessary for such a study.
The fact that 30 riders, one from as far away as Chicago, appeared in Allendale for dressage's debut in show competition was therefore all the more remarkable and encouraging. The tests were not of the most complicated order but, nonetheless, it was the opinion of the judges that the competition showed one very good rider, one good one and many who were promising. The need for proper instruction was noted in some cases and, in general, a lack of smoothness in execution.
The FEI dressage tests were not the only innovation at Allendale. An open jumping tournament, held under FEI rules (which generally are only dusted off and used in the U.S. when foreign teams come to call at Harrisburg, New York and Toronto) not only offered an assortment of classes to the 54 jumpers who were assembled for the three-day event, but $7,500 to the winners, the largest prize ever offered in a horse show up to that time. (Harrisburg, Pa. is offering $10,000.) When the final test of the three days began, an open jumper event, it was still very much of an open contest, as pointwise several horses were quite close. Of the 28 that jumped the 18-obstacle course, only one, Saxon Wood, Mrs. Robert Schmidt's and Gordon Wright's veteran of international competition, made a faultless round to win the stake and the big share of the tournament award. The reserve championship is still in doubt, as Mr. and Mrs. Bernie Mann have lodged a protest over the outcome of an earlier class and, if upheld, their Riviera Wonder will be named second. If not, the decision made by a flip of a coin when Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Magid's Little David and George DiPaula's Lariat tied for the honor will stand; and Little David, reserve champion, will have earned $15,000 for his owners.