As part of the celebrations for the Chinese Year of the Horse, I was drawn to the bronze sculpture, Spanish Rider, by Wilhelm Hunt Diederich. Diederich was born in Austria-Hungary to an American mother and Prussian father. When Diederich was only three years old, his father died in a hunting accident. His only memory of his father was that he loved horses and dogs, a memory that would influence Diederich’s work as a leading sculptor of animal subjects.
Spanish Rider seems to be informed by the Andalusian horses Diederich would have encountered during his time spent traveling in Spain in the early 20th century. The horse is performing the Spanish Walk, where the horse raises each foreleg off the ground in an exaggerated motion. While the Spanish Walk today is a trick not allowed in competition, Spanish breeds of horses excel at the precise movements of dressage, an equestrian sport of riding and training a horse to develop obedience, flexibility, and balance. Dressage is an Olympic sport, and Spanish breeds, such as the one featured in Diederich’s sculpture, are naturally gifted dressage athletes due to their graceful movement, sensitivity, and intelligence. In fact, the Spanish national dressage team is a regular medal contender at international equestrian competitions.
My favorite thing about dressage and art is that both are timeless. For example, if you look at a still image from the video linked above, you can see that the pose of the horse and rider is a modern tableau of Spanish Rider, unchanged even after a hundred years! The emotion and fluidity of dressage remind me of finishing a work of art—the learning process is often long and requires focus and dedication, but the result looks effortless.
Caroline Paganussi, Executive Assistant to the Director and the Board of Trustees