LIVEBLOG: Mitt Romney's horse, Rafalca, goes horse-dancing

How will Rafalca fare? And what does it mean for the Republican candidate's Presidential hopes?

 

12:06
alexhern: Hello everyone, thanks for joining today for the inaugural horse-dancing liveblog.
 
12:07
alexhern: Obviously, we're all very excited to see how Rafalca Romney does. Could be some real clues to how the election will go down in November.
 
12:08
alexhern: 
Psephologists actually refer to this event colloquially as "the election in August".
 
 
12:09
alexhern: A couple of horse-dancing videos to get you pumped for the main event:
 
12:10
alexhern: Firstly, a lovely number from Ireland:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzYzVMcgWhg
 
12:12
alexhern: 
Sorry about the massive picture of Helen Lewis there. She submitted it in haste.
 
 
12:12
Comment From Helen L 
Aha, I see my attempt to include an avatar may not have worked so well there.
 
12:12
alexhern: Another video while we wait for Rafalca to take the stage: http://t.co/CX7SKY6J
 
12:12
Helen L: Here's a video of Stephen Colbert learning about dressage on the Colbert Report
 
12:12
Comment From adamawhite 
and the modern update of that classic Irish tune here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljPFZrRD3J8
 
12:14
alexhern: Some facts about Rafalca: She's 15, which is a tad old for the Olympics, and is a bay Oldenburg.
 
12:14
alexhern: She describes herself as a fiscal conservative and social liberal, although she is steadfastedly opposed to gay marriage on religious grounds.
 
12:14
Helen L: And here, because politics is weird now, is Rafalca herself rebutting Stephen Colbert's mockery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99-0ROz_qbA
 
12:15
alexhern: Despite being owned by Romney, Rafalca has kept the religion of her birthplace, Germany, and is a Catholic horse.
 
12:16
alexhern: Mitt Romney, of course, will not be attending the event. Although he told the press that he "doesn't even know when its happening", most commentators believe that he can't bring himself to watch a performance which could make or break his presidential run.
 
12:17
alexhern: Rafalca off to a good start there
 
12:17
Helen L: Rafalca has just executed a "very good halt"
 
12:18
Helen L: "Into the Piaf"?
 
12:18
alexhern: This horse is dancing exquisitly. Slightly bouncy, which is normal for conservative republicans.
 
12:18
Comment From Mikey Smith 
Is that horse wearing a baseball cap? Cruel.
 
12:18
alexhern: Yes, Mikey, it's an attempt to connect with blue-collar voters.
 
12:19
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
15 is ridiculously old for the Olympic Dressage. Is Rafalca a former racehorse perchance?
 
12:19
Comment From Caroline C 
Doesn't have enough 'lift' apparently. Such a shame...
 
12:19
Helen L: "This horse's hallmark is obedience and accuracy, as opposed to brilliance". Very much like Romney himself. #METAPHOR
 
12:19
alexhern: Mark, Rafalca is essentially being entered to boost her value as a breeding mare.
 
12:19
Comment From Guest 
Are you sure a horse takes its surname from its current owner? Curious political statement there Alex
 
12:19
Helen L: Rafalca is now doing what I believe is known in dressage as "the running man"
 
12:20
alexhern: Guest, if you ask @rafalcaromney herself, I'm sure she'll be able to explain.
 
12:20
alexhern: She breaks into a canter exactly as planned, but seems a bit unhappy at the prospect. Perhaps Romney is planning to pick a female VP?
 
12:21
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
But at 15 - is Rafalca not past her prime age as a breeding mare?
 
12:21
alexhern: 
Mark, Rafalca would like to remind you that Ronald Reagan was president well into his eighties, and that experience really counts in this field.
 
 
12:21
alexhern: This field being horse dancing.
 
12:21
Helen L: "Pirouette there was a little big, could have had a bit more sitting"
 
12:21
Comment From Caroline C 
She's doing funny little panty gallops now. What does this mean for the GOP's chances, Alex?
 
12:22
alexhern: Caroline, Ohio, a key swing state, really hates panty gallops. It doesn't look good.
 
12:22
Helen L: "Good extended Trot". NO ONE TELL RUSH LIMBAUGH
 
12:22
Helen L: BBC commentators don't seem to know if Ann Romney is there to watch, as expected
 
12:23
Helen L: AND IT'S OVER
 
12:23
alexhern: 
I genuninely can't tell if my feed is skipping or if Rafalca's passage has got off centre 
 
 
12:23
Helen L: The rider is 53, which is nice. Must be one of the oldest competitors in the Olympics.
 
12:23
alexhern: 53 points. Romney is in with a fighting chance in November.
 
12:23
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
USA USA USA
 
12:23
Helen L: The slow-motion replay makes the horse look like it's moonwalking
 
12:24
alexhern: Well, that was an astounding performance. Romney has certainly won the Dressage Independents round with his horse.
 
12:24
Helen L: 69.91 points
 
12:24
Helen L: 70.213 per cent now, just been raised
 
12:24
Helen L: Oh, a sighting of ann Romney there
 
12:24
alexhern: (Dressage Independents is a term that pollster Frank Lunz came up with, to describe wealthy voters with horses who nonetheless hate the Republicans almost as much as Democrats)
 
12:25
Helen L: "The world of the horse has people from all walks of life"
 
12:25
Comment From Duncan Weldon 
Useful list of number of horses by state. This'll be crucial come November. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Horse_population_state_by_state
 
12:25
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
A "Halt and rein back" there. Which is a maneuver that Mitt had to carry out on his press staff in London last week...
 
12:25
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
Of course this is just the first day of the first dressage stage. And there are three dressage stages. SO it's not over for Rafalca yet
 
12:25
Comment From Caroline C 
What? A controversial recount?
 
12:25
alexhern: The Supreme Court will be unlikely to touch this one, after the negative publicity surrounding Bush v Gore.
 
12:25
Helen L: Does Rafalca have more or less chance of winning than Mitt himself?
 
12:26
alexhern: And that's the question, isn't it? We can but hope.
 
12:26
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
BBC Commentator: "The world of horses has people from so many different walks of life." Let's be clear, that's not REALLY true.... And I say that as someone who partially owns a horse...
 
12:26
alexhern: 
Mark Ferguson of LabourList there, leading light of the British socialist movement and equestrian.
 
 
12:27
Comment From Duncan Weldon 
12 US states have an official state horse. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._state_horses
 
12:27
Comment From adamawhite 
Do you think Rafalca's 'foreign' name is likely to pull in the latino vote, or alienate the WASP block?
 
12:27
alexhern: Adam, this is a key concern of Mittens Romney. Unfortunately, as a family man, he can't just let her go.
 
12:28
alexhern: Anyway folks, that's all from us. This has certainly left us much to mull over. Based on his horse's competition, I'm pegging Romney as picking an African-American VP, but then flunking the second debate as matters turn to foreign policy. It's all signposted in the canter.
 
12:29
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
Correction: Although I may be the partial owner of a very old and often injured dressage horse, I am no Equestrian. As I have never sat on a horse.
 
12:29
alexhern: 
Our apoligies to Mark.
Leida Collins-Strijk of Holland riding On Top at the FEI World Cup Dressage Qualifier in 2008. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

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