Recently I was let out of work early to go spend the rest of the day at the Saut Hermès! It was a glorious sunny day in Paris in the middle of March, and life felt like a million dollars. I walked from work to the Grand Palais where the 3 day jumping contest event was being held for the 3rd consecutive year. I love this building that was built for the World exposition of 1900 with a glass and steel ceiling, it has a yesteryear yet modern style that I never get tired of and reminds me of the Crystal Palace of London built for the World exposition of 1851.
So there I was at the Grand Palais on one of the brightest days since the start of winter, sitting in the tribunes right at the front row, while the course was being set up for the next competition I realized that one of the obstacles was being set up right smack dab directly in front of me. And then my heart sunk because I didn’t have my good camera on me, only the cell phone cam which is not the best. So I promised myself I would try to get a few shots and then spend the rest of the time enjoying the spectacle!
Not bad for a cell phone camera! But it was most amazing to watch without the stress of clicking the shutter at the right moment. There would be this giant force of horse, all sweaty and heavy racing towards the obstacle, eyes wide and nostrils flared, the audience silent and the sound of the breathing animal being picked up by the microphones set up at each obstacle’s camera, the sound of the hooves hitting the floor and all the weight of the beast coming down on them, the hooves clicking together and sometimes knocking the bars, and the clinking of the harnesses and bits, the sand being rustled by the swiftly moving horse. It was a auditive delight that I don’t often (ever actually) get to hear.
After the jumping competitions, there was a dressage show of the Bartabas equestrian performance troupe from Versailles. They are these athlete artists that perform choreography set to music with the horse. The horse does the foot work and the cavalier guides it in the most discrete, graceful way. The piece of choreography was created especially for Hermès to go along with the luxury company’s theme for the year 2012 : The gift of time (“Le temps devant soi”) set to the music Boléro by Ravel. I nearly died. I love, love LOVE this piece of music. It’s rhythmic and sultry yet classical, strange and deep coming from a composer who created it in the beginning of the 20th century. The choreography was beautiful and quite technical (as I was told) although from the riders’ poster and poise you can’t tell all of the guide work on the animal that is being done with their legs underneath the long skirts they wear.
The show started with a character who came out on horse back, he dressed in a sort-of carnival-esque skeleton costume, and the horse doing all the fancy footwork while he held his poise and slowly gave a grand sweep of his green velvet top hat to the audience as he crossed the entire ring.
After that two groups came out on either side. On one side, mounted on white horses with their leader on a black mount, they came out in black skeleton costumes with white wigs and on the other side, mounted on white horses also with their leader on a black mount, they wore bare back tops and orange wigs (a nod to Hermès I am sure). The horses did series of difficult footwork and pirouettes around themselves and each other from one side of the ring to the other and back, always keeping time with the music of Ravel.
Then the most exciting part of the show. From one side of the ring came riding at full speed a rider dressed as a skeleton bride with an ample flowing lace gown and large souther style lace hat. The rider and mount rode as if there was a wall of fire behind them. And after that rider came at least a dozen other horses, one by one, mounted only by a false skeleton that flapped wildly around as each horse galloped at full power from one end to the other. And then they all came back together as a group, with the skeleton bride in the lead and the riderless horses behind her galloping as if their life depended on it! The amount of patience and training it must have taken to get those horses to be guided without a cavalier…I was in awe. And not only that, but it was not something you see every day in real life : horses galloping wildly without a guide on their back. I was breathless!
I do hope that the Saut Hermès will continue for years to come because the entire event is a grand display of elegance, hard work, savoir-faire, and a passion for the stunning beast that is the horse…all of these values being ones that Hermès holds in high respect. This is an event the is the epitome of dignified and in my opinion, graces Paris with it’s presence.