By Patti Schofler
Stars have a look about them and the luminaries of the world’s largest touring show Cavalia Odysseo are no different. The Odysseo horse has a softness in his eye and joy in his movement. And he is coming to Ventura County to show off in the best show ever.
On November 11, the 65 horses of 12 different breeds and 50 riders, acrobats, aerialists, dancers and musicians open in Camarillo in the $30 million production Odysseo, a show unlike any other on the planet. This spectacular theatre event weds the equestrian arts, stage arts, and high-tech theatrical effects to tell the story of the horse and human journey through nature.
Under a touring tent the size of a NFL football field, the mesmerizing decor unites with live music, gravity-defying acrobatics, entrancing aerial stunts and stirring HD scenery to make exceptional entertainment.
The horses who perform in the show are methodically, meticulously selected. One year 17 new horses joined the company after a 10- day trip in which Cavalia’s Marc-Olivier Leprohon, artistic and equestrian operations director, and Dorian Escalon, equestrian trainer, looked at 300 horses in Spain with Dorian test riding 59 horses.
Who wins the coveted positions depends on specific criteria related to gender (mares need not apply), health, conformation, movement, temperament, age, size and color. How well a horse fits the Odysseo benchmarks in these categories makes him uniquely suitable for this distinctive life on the road, whether his place is to show off before 2,000 people at liberty with a herd of equine performers, or as a dressage star in a carousel or solo, or with a partner in Roman riding, or as a jumper alongside acrobats on springs.
Despite their distinct personalities and backgrounds, the horses, according to Odysseo groom Andreanne Dumont, have one common characteristic: curiosity.
“This makes them want to watch you and try to understand what you want or what you are telling them. Because they’re curious, they want to follow and connect with you.
“They want to be on stage. When they have a day off, but they hear their music of the show, they still want to go on. “Horses don’t fake or lie. You know when they’re happy. Because the show is based on the horse and human relationship, we couldn’t do the show if the horses weren’t happy and not comfortable with us.”
As do all the Odysseo grooms, Andreanne has six horses in her care. And though each has that innate curiosity of which she speaks, each has a unique personality.
Take her two charges Farol and Quartz. Andreanne fell in love with the grey Spanish Purebred Farol on first sight. The dressage horse in an Haute École solo has attitude. “I have seen him grow from an eager young horse who didn’t know how to perform to a beautiful magnificent soloist. He’s such a diva with so much personality. He loves attention and pampering. He makes sure you know where he is. He’s a gelding with stallion attitude.”
On the other hand, you don’t hear from the Selle Francais Quartz who is on the quiet side. He’s an inconspicuous bay whose mane doesn’t flow like Farol’s. He doesn’t show it in his daily life, but he is a powerhouse and the master of jumping. The grooms call him the flying horse. When he takes on the big jumps at the end of the Village Celebration scene, he is majestic! Other criteria stand out. “Soundness evaluation is done early,” says Margaret Keer, one of Odysseo’s three veterinary technicians who travel with the show. The prospects are tested for 12 diseases. “Because we will be potentially going through so many different places, they must be disease free. We do a full panel of testing for every disease that can exist in Europe, the U.S., and Australia. We have to be very careful.”
Conformation and movement for a specific role in the show are carefully considered. For example, cantering under saddle up and down the three-story hill on stage requires a horse with an uphill balance. Equally specialized are the jumping horses. On the other hand, the choice for most trick riding acts is the Quarter Horse with instant speed, a smaller body that is closer to the ground and a horizontal build so that the rider can get on and off successfully.
Size is also a consideration. “The Arabians in the group at liberty work well together. They are small and we can have lots of them on stage,” says Margaret.
Equally logical is to choose a big boy for the “under the belly” trick riding, like the Hanoverian Percheron cross Don Maestro, or pick a broad back for Roman riding. Further, if the horse will do Haute École in the show “he must be strong and spirited.”
Color comes into play if the horse will join an established act. For example, The Travelers scene is a carousel of 16 gray PREs and Lusitanos who perform in a choreography that travels over the stage’s hill made from 10,000 tons of rock, sand and dirt, over footing specifically formulated for these horses, and depicting through extraordinary theatrical and high-tech effects a journey through the natural wonders of the world.
The “look” is important. A charismatic stallion with a mane down to his knee has a good chance to be chosen. Paints maybe partner for Roman riding or a bay Spanish Purebred may join a liberty quartet of bay Iberians.
Finally, the lifestyle of the traveling theatre must be compatible with the individual horse’s nature and experience. During the day on the show site, vast turnouts welcome each horse to a good roll, a nap in the sun, a buck or two and a trot around the perimeter. At matinee and evening shows, “we want them to see the stage as their playground. We put everything in place so they can enjoy the life in a herd on tour” says Leprohon.
No matter the breed or position in the show, Odysseo horses are beautiful, healthy and of good character. Sounds like the choice most horse people would make.
Tickets are available at www.cavalia.com or by calling 1-866-999-8111. For a memorable outing, the Rendez-Vous package offers the best seats in the house, a full meal buffet dining before the show, open bar, desserts during intermission and best of all, an exclusive visit to the stables after the show to meet the four-legged stars!