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Irregular Podcast! #19

2008-07-01: Irregular Podcast! #19 - "Competitive Synchronised Dressage" (13:08, 6.01 MB)


WARNING: This podcast may be far too exciting for listeners of a temperate disposition.

[Song: To the tune of "The Mr Ed Theme".]

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Well listen to this:

Nigel: Good afternoon sports fans and welcome to this live coverage of the Synchronised Competitive Dressage World Cup final. Joining me here in the commentary booth is Basil St. John-Thripmorton-Featheringstonehaugh.

Basil: Good day, Nigel. It really is a splendid thrill to be here, I must say.

Nigel: Indeed it is, Basil! But let's not get too carried away just yet. Elucidate for us, if you will, your opinion as to how this afternoon's match might progress.

Basil: Both teams have of course come through a gruelling round of preliminary matches, which have taken their toll. Mr Darcy threw a shoe in that epic quarter-final conflict with Yorkshire, but showed a stiff upper lip to carry on and sweep Shropshire to victory regardless. The possibility of a recurrence will, however, play on his mind.

Nigel: Do you consider that he will be able to maintain control if it happens again?

Basil: Oh, indubitably. Mr Darcy's a professional, Nigel, as are all the athletes at this elite level. On the Suffolk side, we have Starlight Dancer and Volare, who've put in impeccable performances throughout this tournament, although they were a bit ruffled by the aggressive tactics of the Cheshire pair in the group stage. It will be interesting to see if the Shropshire lads will adopt those tactics to break what seems to be an implacable fortitude. You can't remain perfect forever - someone's got to crack in this final.

Nigel: Let's cross to Roger down on the arena floor. What's the atmosphere like down there, Roger?

Roger: {whispering} There is a hushed air of expectation out here, Nigel. The crowd is enormous, decked out approximately evenly in Shropshire and Suffolk colours. One young lad in the Suffolk section actually tried to start a chant a few minutes ago, but was quickly hushed by the disapproving stares of his compatriots. And now the silence is deafening. Never have I heard such a profound silence before an event. I think we're in for something very special this afternoon.

Nigel: Thank you, Roger. And here come the competitors now! Mr Darcy and Xenophon entering from the eastern end, Starlight Dancer and Volare from the west.

Basil: That's an early advantage to the Suffolk pair, Nigel. With the sun at an azimuth of approximately 40 degrees, the glare will make a difference.

Nigel: We have a moment before this titanic tussle begins, and this broadcast is going out to a wide audience, many of whom are tuning in to competitive dressage for the first time.

Basil: I find it downright difficult to believe that anyone of proper character in this day and age should remain ignorant of this noble sport.

Nigel: Nevertheless! William, please elucidate some of the finer points to our audience.

William: Dressage, of course, is the sport of training a horse to perform a series of difficult manoeuvres with precision and grace. Synchronised competitive dressage pits teams of two horses against one another in the arena at the same time. The result is determined by a combination of the synchronisation between horses of the same team, and the appropriateness and staidness of the reaction to challenges posed by horses of the opposing team. Rather than simply performing a fixed routine, the sport is dynamic, thereby imbuing it with even more uncertainty and excitement.

Nigel: Thank you, William. The horses have adopted opening stances, and the final is about to begin.

Basil: Mr Darcy and Xenophon have gone for an unusual opening, Nigel, standing at right angles, rather than parallel. That may be calculated to distract Volare, who is known to be a bit flighty at times.

Nigel: And they're off! Starlight Dancer and Volare move directly into a trot, peeling off in opposite directions, while Xenophon and Mr Darcy take up a walking gait.

Basil: Both teams are using asymmetrical openings. It looks like they've read each other well here.

Nigel: Volare slows to a walk as he approaches the eastern end of the arena, but look, Starlight Dancer has gone into a canter along the diagonal!

Basil: A bold move, Nigel. They're pulling out the stops early here. Xenophon gave them a bit of a look, but Mr Darcy is ignoring them completely.

Nigel: Yes, they're maintaining identical gaits, transitioning into a passage and... I think they're taking up symmetrical positions.

Basil: That's a deliberate challenge to the Suffolk pair. Oh, look at that!

Nigel: Volare moves into a piaffe, and so does Starlight Dancer, directly from a canter! That's amazing, Basil!

Basil: Indeed it is! That flying gait change on the left foreleg is a tricky manoeuvre, and it was done precisely in time with Volare's shift from the walk. I don't think that's been pulled off in top level competition since the 1998 European Gymkhana.

Nigel: That's certainly a gauntlet cast down at the hooves of the Shropshire team. How will they respond? Statistics, William?

William: From a symmetrical passage, Shropshire have transitioned to a trot 38% of the time, piaffe 32%, walk 19%, and extended walk 11%.

Nigel: Interesting! They're still maintaining this passage, turning at the eastern corners of the arena; they're both heading down the diagonals. One of them will have to change soon.

Basil: Volare has cracked first! He could see he was getting out of time with Starlight Dancer, and has moved off into an extended walk.

Nigel: Down the same diagonal as Xenophon! Mr Darcy peels away into an extended walk, establishing symmetry with Volare! That leaves Starlight Dancer and Xenophon heading directly towards one another!

Basil: It's a game of chicken, Nigel. Xenophon moves into an extended walk, accepting the challenge!

Nigel: Roger! On the floor!

Roger: {whispering} The crowd is absolutely silent down here, Nigel! They're stunned by this performance from both teams!

Nigel: Who will flinch first?! And here comes Mr Darcy and Volare, slowing to a collected walk... and now a piaffe, either side of the collision point!

Basil: Neither of these two horses can back down now. There's too much at stake!

Nigel: This could be disastrous! Starlight Dancer and Xenophon are within metres of each other, and...

Basil: Oh my god! They've stopped! They've stopped!

Nigel: That's astounding, Basil! They both stopped at exactly the same time! Their noses are inches away from each other!

Basil: And look, Mr Darcy and Volare have stopped moving too!

Nigel: This is fantastic! Four horses, standing absolutely still! It's marvellous! Look at the control they're displaying out there! Roger!

Roger: {whispering} The crowd down here has gone even more silent, if that's possible, Nigel!

Nigel: Incredible! We haven't seen dressage like this since... since...

Basil: The 1967 World Cup, Nigel! Second round match between Hertfordshire and Kent! Four horses stood motionless in opposite corners for 15 seconds!

Nigel: I think we might be seeing something very special here today. Just look at these magnificent creatures, just standing there! The riders could almost reach out and touch one another!

Basil: It boggles the mind, Nigel. How long can they keep this up?! It's inhuman the way these horses can stand still like this!

William: In the tournament so far, Mr Darcy and Xenophon have stood still for a total of 48 seconds. Starlight Dancer and Volare for 53 seconds.

Nigel: That would seem to favour the Suffolk pair. We might be in for a long wait here, Basil. Let's go to a quick commercial break.

Slappy John: Try Slappy John's genuine Cornish pasties, direct from the farm in Cornwall. Aye, they're full of country goodness. Peas, 'n' turnips, 'n' potato, 'n' carrot, 'n' some meat too. Slappy John's Cornish pasties.

Honest Simon: Where do you go when you want some genuine hand-built dry stone walling for your paddocks? Honest Simon's dry stone-

Nigel: Sorry to interrupt, but there's just been an astonishing development here at the World Cup final. I thought I saw a small twitch in the flank muscle of Starlight Dancer.

Basil: That could be the tournament right there, Nigel!

Nigel: Let's bring that up on the replay. Look, there, was that a twitch?...


Basil: ... No... No, I think you're mistaken.

Nigel: So I am! Starlight Dancer hasn't actually moved a muscle! This continues to be the most amazing display of horsemanship I've ever witnessed!

Basil: Indeed! We were there when Wales walloped Warwickshire at Wembley, and we witnessed Williams whirling a wobbler at Wimbledon, but I've never seen anything that compares to this!

Nigel: These horses have been standing stock still for going on two and a half minutes now! It's indescribable! Xenophon is not moving! Volare is not moving! Starlight Dancer is not moving! And Mr Darcy is not moving! The pressure is intense!

Basil: This is what competitive dressage is all about, Nigel.

Nigel: No arguments there, Basil. Words just fail me! You could put a coat of grey paint on these horses and have druids watch the sun rising between them at the summer solstice! They are that motionless!

Basil: That's no exaggeration, Nigel. The images of these horses standing in this position is burning on to my retinas. I dare not blink, for fear of missing a second of this action!

Nigel: This is absolutely marvellous. I cannot believe the levels of stamina and skill being displayed out there!

Basil: This match will go down in history as one of the all-time classics.

Nigel: Look at them! Just standing there!

Basil: I can't look away!

Nigel: Roger, how is the crowd reacting to this?

Roger: {whispering} They are stunned into the deepest silence I can recall. Every eye is on those four horses. There's not a cough nor a rustle of a bag of crisps. I don't think anyone in this crowd has moved for the past minute.

Crowd member: Shhhh!!!!!

Roger: {whispering} Sorry! Back to you, Nigel.

Nigel: These four horses are locked into an epic struggle for dominance. No quarter shall be given as they stand there, exerting their stillness on one another with all of their might.

Basil: Something's happening down there! Something's moving!

Nigel: I see it! It's... yes... it's a pigeon! A pigeon has flown into the arena and settled on to the rump of Starlight Dancer!

Basil: It's obviously under the impression that it's a statue of a horse out there.

Nigel: That's an easy mistake to make at this point. William, do we have any statistics on ornithology?

William: In World Cup history there have been three reports of bird life in the arena. A robin was spotted during the second round in 1954. A seagull appeared in the stands during a semi-final in 1983, apparently chasing a potato chip. And most recently, a pair of sparrows landed in one corner of the arena during a group match in 1996.

Nigel: Fascinating! The question is, will the presence of this pigeon affect Starlight Dancer's concentration?

Basil: It doesn't appear to have done so. He's looking strong and very composed.

Nigel: These horses have not moved for over four minutes now! This is excruciating! How much more of this can we take?!

Basil: The mental and physical strain is enormous, but these are seasoned professionals. They wouldn't be in this final if they couldn't stand up to punishment like this!

Nigel: I'm getting a glint of sunlight off something. Let's have a look through the binoculars.

Basil: That's not a bridle wobbling, is it?

Nigel: It's... it's... a reflection off Volare's blaze! There's... yes... a drop of sweat forming on his brow!!!

Basil: That could be it, Nigel! There's no way Suffolk can come back from this now! They've broken the symmetry!

Nigel: Wait! There's also a drop on Starlight Dancer!

Basil: That's astounding! Synchronised sweating! This really is lifting the competition to an extreme level. Far from being a mistake, this is a challenge that could pay off!

Nigel: Xenophon and Mr Darcy have spotted it, but it hasn't fazed them. They're pulling out the last reserves of their strength and... yes... they're sweating in tandem as well!

Basil: I never thought I'd see a final coming down to something like this.

Nigel: And still neither horse has moved!

Basil: This has to be taking a toll on them. To stand completely motionless for this long... well, to be frank, we are priveleged to experience a display of control and precision as astonishing as this.

Nigel: The beads of sweat are running down the nose of each horse, still in unison. Yes, they've reached the tips of the noses of all four of them... well, we're going to have to see a slow motion replay to see if we can separate those.

Basil: The drips are hanging there. Those horses are concentrating furiously! None of them can afford a mistake at a crucial moment like this.

Nigel: It's dropped! It's dropped! The bead of sweat has dropped off Volare's nose!

Basil: And Starlight Dancer! They're still synchronised!

Nigel: Falling... falling... falling... Volare's hits the ground first! There's definitely a delay there before Starlight Dancer's sweat hits!

Basil: That's it!!! The judges have seen it! A disastrous error there on the parts of Volare and Starlight Dancer! It's over!!

Nigel: Shropshire win! Mr Darcy and Xenophon have won the World Cup!!!


Nigel - David MM.
Basil St. John-Thripmorton-Featheringstonhaugh - Andrew S.
William - Steven I.
Roger - David Mc.
Slappy John - David K.
Honest Simon - Loki P.
Crowd Member - David MM.
Singers: David MM., David Mc, David K, Andrew S, Steven I.

Programme Notes

The idea for this one came from watching Olympic dressage competition. No, seriously. During the Olympic Games, they televise the dressage events here in Australia. I first stumbled across it by accident one time, but the commentating, in plummy English accents, was so hilarious that my wife and I now actively seek it out whenever the Olympics are on, just to laugh at the over-the-top descriptions of horses... well... just basically walking around, and occasionally standing still.

Seriously, give it a look next time when you get the opportunity. The only real down side is that they only ever have one horse in the aerna at one time. So I invented this sport to make it even more marvellous and exciting.

My comics: Irregular Webcomic! | Darths & Droids | Eavesdropper | Planet of Hats | The Dinosaur Whiteboard | mezzacotta
My blogs: (daily updates) | 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe (science!) | Carpe DMM (long form posts) | Snot Block & Roll (food reviews)
More comics I host: The Prisoner of Monty Hall | Lightning Made of Owls | Square Root of Minus Garfield | iToons | Comments on a Postcard | Awkward Fumbles
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