Mary’s birthday was June 3, while the Moo was outside sensor range. Her request was for Fraser and one of the Rays (Moo’s choice of Ray) to go to a horse show.
Anybody who was a member of Racinestreet may recall a very long time ago the Moo described the Spanische Hofreitschule. A little bit of the following is stolen from that old post.
Oh, and the events of this ficlet are far far far more improbable than the most bizarre happening of season four.
“So, is this where that famous horse show is supposed to be, Benny?” Ray looked around the grand exterior of the building, the cobblestone courtyard and the proud statue in the center. “Isn’t this supposed to be a palace or something?”
“Of course, it’s the Hofburg Palace. Well, a part of it. The back part.”
“Uh hunh. And they ride horses around INSIDE a palace?”
“So it seems. This is Vienna, Ray. The people here take their imperial heritage very seriously. And the horses live in this building across the street.”
Ray looked at the quadrangle made up of the same white stone as the palace across the way. “Benny, there are offices in that building.”
“Yes. It’s called the Stallburg. There are also horses stables in it.”
“Horses living in office buildings and running around inside palaces. Vienna’s a weird place, Benny.”
“Well, it is certainly different from home – either of our homes.”
As though specially timed to coincide with the boys’ discussion (oh, amazing co-incidence) a line of elegant white horses, each led by a security guard in blue uniform, emerged from the courtyard of the Stallburg and crossed the narrow street towards the entrance to the riding arena.
Ray knew little about horses but even his untrained eye was impressed with the beauty and elegance of the animals as they walked.
“These all appear to be between 15.1 and 16.2 hands high, Ray.” Fraser observed. “I suppose they must choose horses of that height so that they large enough to be impressive but small enough not to encounter difficulties in making their jumps. I’ve read that the Lipizzaners are the oldest cultured horse breed in Europe.”
Even in the simple act of crossing the street, the animals moved with high-stepping grace. Despite his ignorance of finer details of horsemanship, Ray did notice that they were all stallions.
“No girl horses performing today, I guess.”
“Or any day. All the horses and riders are male.”
The two friends had to wait until the crossing was done before they could carry on down the road. Just as the last couple of horses were passing, a taxi came careening from the opposite direction, headed straight for the last horse in line. The guard who led that horse just happened to be badly hung over from over-doing it at a wine tavern the night before. He shouldn’t have been on duty, but he was, and was too disoriented by his suffering to react very swiftly.
Fraser was much faster, having drunk nothing stronger than mineral water all the time he and Ray had been in Vienna. He dashed forward and grabbed the horse’s rein with one hand and the guard’s arm with the other. The car narrowly missed them as Fraser pulled both out of harm’s way.
A dozen men, both uniformed and in suits came out of the buildings on each side of the street. They all stood around talking in excited German to Fraser. One of them went back into the Stallburg and came out with a pair of tickets, which he handed over to the Mountie. After a brief spell of handshaking and backslapping, the men went back to their business and Fraser came back to Ray.
He showed Ray the tickets. “Two free tickets to tomorrow’s show. Ray, you usually have to reserve these MONTHS in advance.”
They gave in their tickets to an attendant and went with the rest of the crowd up a steep, narrow stone staircase, very old and worn out – the steps were indented with years of wear. This led to an even narrower stone passage, down which Ray and Fraser proceeded wedged in with the crowds on their way to see the Lipizzaner Stallions perform. The passageway finally opened out to a large arena.
The riding arena looked like a ballroom, all in white stone except for red and white flags set into the walls at intervals. All around were statues, columns and chandeliers. It was about as wide as a hockey rink and about five times as long. Ray and Fraser gaped at the opulence. The only things that really distinguished the place from a palace ballroom were the three tiers of balconies all around for the spectators, and the dirt floor. And even the dirt was dignified and imperial - raked in perfectly symmetrical lines along the length of the arena.
They settled into their seats. Fraser studied a program and ascertained that they would be shown movements of ever increasing complexity. The first portion would be performed by young stallions still in their second or third year of training. As eight of these horses came out, Ray was puzzled to see that some of the horses were not white but grey.
“They will change colour as they get older.” Fraser assured him.
Ray had more of an eye for clothes than for horseflesh. “Don’t be jealous, Benny. They’ve got brown uniforms. And look at those sideways hats like Napoleon. Got to admit, these guys look pretty sharp.”
He didn’t have to point that out. Fraser leaned forward against the wide stone railings in front of their seats and also stared not at the animals as they demonstrated the basic gaits: walk, trot and canter, but at the men. He took in every detail of their uniform and imagined himself in that imperial costume: tri-corner hat and coats cut high across the chest with long tails draped over the horse’s back, both of matching dark brown material and trimmed with gold. Tight cream-coloured deerskin pants. High black boots. White gloves finished off the effect. Each man sat his horse with ramrod posture, oozing imperial dignity.
Everything move in the show was done to music, mostly waltzes and stately marches. As segment after segment progressed the horses seemed to be making impossible moves, even though according to the program there was not one action that a horse could not make while free in the pasture. This was supposed to be the case even for the amazing Courbette, during which the stallions balanced on their hind legs and hopped several times with the rider still on his back.
About halfway through the program a Pas de Deux was presented. Two horses and their riders executed an absolutely symmetrical series of figures. Symmetrical, of course, until something happened which to this day few people who were not there to witness it believe.
One of the stallions in the Pas de Deux broke formation and to the astonishment of everyone – riders and audience, began trotting around the arena. He seemed to be looking into the audience as he went. The horse ignored all instructions from his rider and refused to break from his bizarre circuit.
Shouts of amazement arose in all the languages of the watching tourists, as other riders rushed into the arena. The horse ignored all attempts to restrain him but kept circling and circling. Then he came to a halt of his own accord right under where Ray and Fraser sat, stretching his long, noble neck upwards towards the stands.
“I’m going to die. One of these days I’m just going to die of embarrassment.” Ray murmured as he sank slowly in his seat. His humiliation was quite unnecessary. No one was paying him the slightest bit of attention.
In counterpoint to Ray’s sinking, Fraser rose to his feet and stared down at the animal. “That’s the horse I saved,” he informed his partner.
“You don’t say,” Ray muttered. “Glad to hear it.”
In the arena below, one of the riders who appeared to be in charge made wide arm gestures in Fraser’s direction, motioning his to come down. The people sitting near him rose to make way for him to move along the aisle towards the exit. Fraser saved time by climbing over the balustrade and shimmying down one of the columns to the arena below. He and the motioning man, who was the Chief Rider, consulted in German while everyone in the arena watched intently.
The Chief Rider then led the four performers and Fraser through a gate that led to an area out of the view of the audience. In first German, then English and then French a voice on the loudspeaker asked everyone to please remain in their seats – the show would continue in a few moments.
After five minutes, music began again and out from the gates came the same two horses and one of the original riders, but the other rider was Fraser, sitting proudly in the brown uniform he had been admiring before. The show continued.
Later over Sachertorte and coffee, Fraser described what happened. The animal refused to take guidance from anyone but Fraser. The Chief Rider, learning that Fraser was a Mountie, agreed to let him try to finish the segment. He apparently knew of the existence of the RCMP Musical Ride and, in his innocence, imagined the manouevers performed by the Canadians were far more complex than they really were.
There had followed a heated debate among the riders as to which was the worse outrage: for Fraser to be dressed up in the uniform they had all spent years in training to earn the right to wear, or to allow him to ride the horse in street clothes. Fraser shared with his friend how intensely he had to concentrate to copy the movements of the other rider.
When Fraser finished his story, along with the last bite of his chocolate cake and the last dollop of whipped cream, Ray had only this to say. “Benny, I can’t take you anywhere.”