RIDGEFIELD — How do 65 internationally touring horses take a vacation? For the horses of the Montreal-based equestrian theatre Cavalia Odysseo, appearing under the Big Tent in Portland July 7-24, a vacation meant 10 days to stretch their legs in grassy fields in Ridgefield.
Rocking B Farms and Mt View Stables, both of Ridgefield, hosted the 65 horses during their recent break from performing with the internationally renowned show.
The horses arrived in eight vans holding eight horses each after a 12-hour drive from Salt Lake City. They travel in roomy box stalls where they can turn around or lay down as they wish, and grooms travel with them, paying careful attention to their needs.
Andreanne Dumont of Montreal is one of the grooms for the performing horses. The vacation is a lovely time for them to rest, she said. Performing with a show like Cavalia can be stressful to a horse, because there is a lot of stimulus and action. During vacation they are not in training or work, just enjoying a lot of peace and quiet.
Keeping 65 horses healthy and happy while on the road, and living in a big tent in the middle of cities is no easy task. There are 23 people on the Cavalia team to care for the horses, including grooms and veterinary technicians. Their regular farrier travels to their location for several weeks at a time to care for the horses’ hooves, and hay is shipped to their location so their diet is consistent.
When the show travels more than a two-day drive, they opt instead to fly the horses to their next location, loading all 65 equines aboard a 747 jet airplane.
Vacations are a key piece of the horses’ well-being. Organizers try to find a farm near the show site, and it can be a challenge to house so many horses with only about a month’s advance planning. Thirty-six horses were housed at Rocking B Farms and the remainder settled in at Mt View Stables.
The 21 trainers of Cavalia, along with the care staff, work in teams to care for the horses in their charge. Knowing the horses well and working together is a great advantage, said groom Margaret Keers, of Montreal.
It may be vacation, but each day has a routine. Horses receive a morning feeding of hay, grain and fresh water in their stalls, and are then turned out into paddocks or pastures to play. They run, jump and roll, and just get to be horses on vacation, Keers said.
They are brought inside for lunch, where their grooms give them a good checking over, and then they have a break to relax in their stalls and have lunch. The horses are turned out for a second time in the afternoon, water buckets are refreshed, and the horses come inside for the night and a final feeding.
Staff worked in two shifts to provide on-site care at the farms from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.
The vacation is really important, emphasized Keers.
“I don’t know if the show would really exist (without it),” she said. “The horses get mental time to just be horses.”
When vacation is over, the horses will head to downtown Portland to take up residence in Cavalia’s Big Tent.
“The big top is their home, so it’s not really an adjustment,” Keers said.
Detailed attention to the horses’ care helps to keep them healthy and comfortable despite their atypical surroundings. Horses are fed four to five times per day while living in the tent in order to simulate their natural grazing patterns. They receive daily turnout in paddocks on the show grounds, and are allowed social time with their friends.
The grooms agreed that the most important aspect to the horses’ care is having a special relationship with at least one person.
“Every horse has a special person,” Keers said. “It provides stability in an environment that changes a lot. They get that anchor.”
Relationships underlie much of what gives Cavalia its unique nature. The horses thrive on a high level of work because of their bond with their handlers, and because they love their job. Keers described the way they love the stage and the crowd, and said she sees them stare at the audience and preen.
“They parade like they were made for it,” she said.
Dumont described the transformation in her approach to horses after she joined Cavalia. She came from a background of show jumping, where she had focused on technical excellence and obedience from the horse. The philosophy of Cavalia, she said, is to play with horses more than to direct them.
“It’s a fine line, but it’s a crucial one,” she said. “They feel like they are doing this because they want to, not because they are told to.”
When grooms and trainers have this connection to their horses, they say it becomes really obvious if a horse is unhappy or not well.
“We truly love our horses and we’d do anything for them,” Keers said.
Cavalia Odysseo features 49 horses of 10 different breeds and 21 riders. The show blends the equestrian arts, stage arts and high-tech theatrical effects in an exploration of the century-old relationship between human and horse.
Cavalia Odysseo will perform July 7-24 under the White Big Top at Zidell Yards in South Waterfront, Portland. Tickets are available at www.cavalia.net, or by calling 1-866-999-8111.