Comments from Participants

attending Franklin's Horsemanship Clinics in Ireland


Franklin Levinson: An Appreciation
by John Culley

It could be said that the connexion between an eighteenth century philosopher/statesman captured in bronze effigy in the forecourt of Trinity College in Dublin, and the activities of a gentleman somewhat misleadingly dubbed a “horse whisperer” (sic) in the covered arena at Drumcoura Lake Resort in County Leitrim in the first decade of the twenty first century may seem a distant one at best, but stay with this for the moment.

In a hard to get and laboriously titled treatise, “An enquiry into our perceptions of the beautiful and the sublime in art and in nature” this outstanding man (Burke) drew an intriguing distinction between the sexes. Women are Beautiful; Men are not. This does not in any sense mean that men are ugly, for such is not at all meant or implied. Men, says Burke, are Sublime. This is how the genders differ; Women are Beautiful, Men are Sublime...

This can lead to some interesting rumination, so let us so ruminate. For example, one may consider a grand country house, picturing its exterior as one approaches. Austere it might be, but perfectly proportioned in all its relationships, masterful, solid, unflinching, it seems to actually perfect, by pointing up the perfection inherent therein, all the natural world around it. It betokens at once colossal strength, security, repose, refuge, poised against time and the elements; it is a moment of perfection caught eternally in the eternal Now. (Grand Architecture is always this in some degree).

So we cross the threshold, enter—and are astonished, for contained and safe, protected within this square built and perfectly proportioned edifice we find the most exquisite of interiors, all delicate tracery, all lightness, grace, and evanescent beauty. Who would have expected this enchanted and delightful interior within such an exterior---until, one reflects, how could it possibly be otherwise? What is each for, if not to make the other possible? (Dear reader, perhaps a visit to such as Townley Hall might here be suggested). Do we have here the Beautiful enabled into existence by the power of the Sublime? I think such a case could be made.

As in great architecture, we may not be over fanciful in suggesting the same thing when it comes to music, most especially that tremendous outpouring which grew out of the ecclesiastical oeuvre of the high Middle Ages, midwifed by the Renaissance, and flourishing down the centuries through the Baroque, the true classic era of whom the trio of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven are the best known exemplars, on into that Romanticism which finally blew itself out in the first decade of the last century. That stupendous song is ended but the melody lingers on. Throughout all this tremendous evolution of true human genius at work, we are aware all the time of the play of two aspects of music, the major and minor keys, and perhaps here again we might see the eternal dance between, respectively, the Sublime and the Beautiful.

Maybe it is time to work this up a little, perhaps we might consider things thus; Men are Sublime, but this word is not to be understood in the idiot way in which it is commonly used. To be sublime means to be gifted with the greatest power of all, the power to Sublimate—an active verb, note--- which means nothing less than the power to make manifest before all the world all that which is inherently beautiful in the Creation. In fact there is even a devotional aspect to this---perhaps its most fundamental aspect—inasmuch as all real art to one degree or another comes into existence ad maiorum deum gloriam.

Making manifest the beautiful in all things, this is the very stuff of what is called creativity and, save for a small minority of women gifted with a surfeit of male chromosome or hormones or whatever it is, it is in essence mans work. This is the meaning of what it is to be a man; a Man is Truth embodied, his life is the realisation of Beauty.

So where is all this going, I hear you cry? OK, let us consider two scenes, different in form but the same in fundamentals, the Viennese Kaiserhof on a star hung summer night and at the same moment a bordello in Frey Bentos, Argentina. In one the grand waltz, in the other the tango; in the one Imperial grandeur, in the other backstreet gaiety; in both we have a man and a woman dancing; in both we have a man dressed relatively innocuously, in both a woman who is a blaze of colour, be she a swan in the palace or a firebird in the knocking shop. But the same thing in essence is happening, for in both cases we see a man showing the world what a beautiful thing is woman. This is the power of sublimation at work, through the medium of dance, for if dance is not this, what then is it? Indeed, in this minefield where the genders intersect it could be said that love in its primal essentials is the will to make manifest the beloved, and there indeed is a pithy little thought for you, and one which I fear will find only a limited constituency.

Any old how; having hinted at the play of these qualities in Matter (fine architecture), in Energy (music), and the way they relate (dance in all its forms and metaphors, that dynamic aspect whose static equivalent is sculpture) perhaps we might now look at the manner in which Franklin Levinson works, at least so far as this writer understood things as he saw them that weekend in Drumcoura Lake Resort, Leitrim, Ireland.

What caught the attention was the several times usage of the concept of dance as metaphor by Franklin; he said on more than one occasion that the goal was not to dominate the horse, not to subjugate it or bully it, not to cow or scare it; one should lead, pure and simple, as one would lead in a dance. To lead is to show the way, to make the way safe, to be protective of those whom one is leading---a horse is a herd animal, an animal which needs to be led, keep in mind---and it requires highly developed intuition, the capacity to see the whole picture, to multitask, if you will, great emotional as well as rational intelligence, kindness, patience and strength, empathy, understanding, gentleness, the capacity to nurture and guide, to nourish and care for; all the inherently manly qualities, in other words. (Those of you, little ladies and the like, with fixed ideas in these matters and thus a trifle surprised by this, read that last bit again by all means….). He likened this leading to the way in which a man might lead a woman in dance; again, care, skill, perception, gentleness, adroitness, empathy are the key qualities here.

At one point there was a horse to worked, one belonging to the stable. This animal was brought in by the lady who operates the English riding side of the operation. Next thing anyone knows, here she is out there working with Franklin on this horse, the two of them together, and it was a real pleasure to watch, to see this woman at the top of her game and this man at the top of his working in harmony, respect, and mutual understanding towards the one goal.

And it seemed to this writer that true, good horsemanship is nothing less than this; perfect harmony between a man deploying those precise virtues and qualities on behalf of and in the service of a beautiful animal, and said animal almost literally coming out of itself and into the true and beautiful nature of what it is.

What struck this writer about the clinic and the work with horses that he witnessed was this metaphor of dance, and all that the concept actually can imply. We were looking, to put it another way, at just one small local manifestation of the eternal three-handed reel we call the Creation.

John Cully

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