Equine Extravaganza Gallops to the Northwest
by Patti Schofler
Unencumbered by human restraints, two yearlings wander onstage before a richly forested background and the audience of 2000 gasps upon realizing the colts are free. Undisturbed by this intrusion into their investigation, the youngsters sniff children’s toys scattered in the sand as humans slowly walk onstage to join the exploration. In this depiction of the ancient connection between humans and horses, one colt walks to the footlights and nods at the audience as if to ask, “How’s your day been?” Then, so like yearlings – it’s time to go – and off they gallop out of sight.
Creating the Magic
This is the magic of Cavalia which has entranced and entertained 3 million people at its more than 1,800 performances throughout North America and Europe since 2003. Horses are the center of this theatrical universe, surrounded by aerialists, acrobats, dancers and musicians in an innovative blend of equestrian and performing arts, multimedia and special effects.
“Cavalia is not a horse show,” explains Normand Latourelle, Cavalia’s founder and creator. “It’s a show about horses, a love affair with horses. It is a dream about harmony in the world, a dream about freedom in the world, a dream about cooperation with nature, between human and nature.”
When Normand created the show, he knew nothing about horses. “I always loved nature and animals. The horse is the most beautiful animal on earth, and if you let them express themselves, you have a fabulous performance all by itself.”
Under the White Big Top, Cavalia’s 49 horses and 37 artists capture the bond between horse and human. Together they celebrate the power of the horse to enchant and to trust, as aerialists fly from bungee cords overhead, acrobats perform stunts dependent on the horses’ cooperation, and horses perform the dance of dressage and the daring of trick riding.
Living the Cavalia Philosophy
Cavalia is an assemblage of experts from riders and performers to sound, lighting and visual arts specialists, to talented composers and musicians.
No less important is the stable management team who keep Cavalia’s horses happy, healthy, and enthusiastic about life on the road.
The horses’ well-being is the core of Cavalia’s philosophy: Horses are willing, giving participants who ask only that their basic equine instincts and needs be respected. “We work with who the horses are. The stage is almost controlled by the horses – we let them express themselves,” says Normand.
Whether that is the grace and majesty of a highly trained dressage horse, the freedom of a band of horses at liberty, or the speed and athleticism of the trick horses racing across stage, working with the horses’ natural instincts can sometimes present unexpected challenges.
“The trick horses are Quarter Horses, and they are sprinters. It’s not difficult to have them run; the difficulty is to have them not run.”
Normand adds that the horses like having an audience. “Their reactions aren’t the same during rehearsal – they are much more expressive when they have an audience. Sometimes they wait for the applause, and if it doesn’t come when they expect it, they look astonished. ”
Stable Management for Stars
When moving into a new city, Cavalia’s horses know what to expect “They’re seasoned divas. They know what’s coming up. They are treated like the stars that they are,” says Katherine Logan, stable director for Cavalia who manages the care of horses representing a variety of breeds: Pure Spanish Horse (PRE), Quarter Horse, Arabian, Lusitano, Paint, Mustang, Comtois, Criollo, Percheron, and Warmblood. They hail from France, Spain, Portugal, Canada, the United States, and the Netherlands.
In their roving horse facility, most everything the horses experience stays the same. The traveling tent barn treats each horse to the same 12’ x 12’ stall bedded with pine shavings and with his own stall toy. He is put into the same stall, between the same buddies, and assigned the same grooms.
“We leave the tops of the stall doors open all day so they can get pets and talk to the other horses,” says Katherine. “We don’t make major changes in their diet. We will ship hay across country with them if at all possible.” The Cavalia horses annually consume 17,500 bales of hay, 36,500 pounds of grain, and 1,750 pounds of carrots.
When the weather is suitable, the horses are turned out daily into a paddock created from portable fencing large enough for a canter and a roll. “All horses are exercised for about a half hour every day except Mondays. They are simply kept fit and fresh. Younger horses or new horses are trained,” says Katherine. “In the performances, a horse is on stage at most 10 minutes and not for every performance.
This traveling equine village focuses on being prepared for any veterinary necessity. A vet tech is on duty at all times, connected with the nearest equine hospital in case of emergency and access to the best local vets.
The horses never perform on any anti-inflammatories, pain relievers, or antibiotics. “If they are in any kind of discomfort and it can be managed on site, they are given a few days off,” says Katherine. “Otherwise, they go back to the home farm in Sutton, Canada, for a vacation and care until they feel good again. When the show is between cities, they are taken to a farm for several days of vacation. With Cavalia, it’s all about the horse.”
Published December 2011 Issue