LONDON, July 27 (Reuters) - For equine purists, dressage is poetry in motion. To the uninitiated spectator, it can be as exciting as watching paint dry.
Dressage, which over the weekend makes up the first part of the London Olympic Eventing competition, is an esoteric discipline which lacks the mass crowd appeal of the daredevil cross-country course or the split-second timing needed for show jumping.
Samantha Albert, Jamaica’s first ever Olympic eventer, is the first to admit its limitations.
“It is very difficult to sell unless you are very horsy. It is hard to appreciate it,” she told reporters.
In the dressage, horse and rider have to perform a meticulously choreographed routine, switching from trot to walk to canter. The moves get more and more complex -- in the half-pass, the horses have to move diagonally across the arena.
But it is hardly a heart-stopping spectacle as the competitors ideally need to perform in cathedral-like silence. Riders and spectators alike certainly have mixed feelings about its attractions and challenges.
Samantha’s sister Melanie, who flew in to London especially to offer family support, put it bluntly.
““I’ll give you your money back for that damn paint-drying competition at the start,” she joked.
Leading British rider William Fox-Pitt does see her point.
“It is hard to follow,” he told Reuters. “The secret is not to watch too much. Watch your favourites but not too many of them. Bear in mind they are riding equine athletes.”
Eventers taking part in the three equestrian disciplines are less skilled than the specialist dressage horses who have their own separate competition later in the Olympics.
““We are not at the level of Grand Prix dressage. What you watch with us is not so fantastic,” he cheerily acknowledged.
But dressage still fascinates many as an intricate mind game played out between horse and rider where men and women compete on equal terms. It is all about grace and precision.
Think of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and all those gloriously fluid routines.
““You have got to be calm and be a person who pays attention to detail. It’s hours and hours of work and patience,” Fox-Pitt added.
The dressage at London is being performed against the picturesque backdrop of the Royal Naval College in Greenwich and the Canary Wharf skyscrapers on the other side of the River Thames.
Germany’s Michael Jung argues that dressage is not all that bad.
““When dressage looks good, it is nice. It is a little part of eventing but an important part,” he said before casting an eye to Monday’s real fun.“
““My favourite is the cross country. That is why we do eventing.”
Australia’s Lucinda Fredericks is the exception to the rule and little wonder -- she put in a superb dressage performance at the Beijing Olympics.
““I am probably one of the few riders who enjoys it. It is a great reward when it works,” she told Reuters.
Spectators may struggle with the arcane intricacies of the dressage but she waxes lyrical about the chemistry of communication between horse and rider.
“"It is both of you. It is unpredictable. You have to be in control of yourself, otherwise the nerves go straight through to the horse. For a lot of the riders, it is not their favourite and they do dread it," she concluded. (Editing by Mark Meadows; firstname.lastname@example.org; Reuters Messaging:; email@example.com; +44 20 7542 7933; For all the latest; Olympic news go to here)