California Riding Magazine • November, 2012

Living The Dream
Riata Ranch Cowboy Girl
comes of age at Cavalia

by Elizabeth Kaye McCall

At 19, Spencer Rose packed up her trick ropes and left Exeter to step into the spotlight on a 160' wide stage that's become home, as an artist in the acclaimed equestrian spectacle Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse. "They needed a new person to do roping who could also trick ride," says Spencer, who debuted in San Francisco following a Denver audition. That was 2010. Twelve tour stops and 400-plus performances later, the former Riata Ranch Cowboy Girl has seen her trick riding, roping, and life skills transform as she's come of age in Cavalia.

"I always performed with a group of girls," explains Spencer, who started riding at 12 in the Riata program. Now 21, she describes her evolution as an artist. "In Cavalia, I do a lasso solo about five minutes long. I had to learn to become a performer, even when I'm transitioning ropes. It's been a big challenge and it's been good for me." Even for one who jumps through lasso loops in a Texas Skip with the consistency of a metronome, Cavalia's brought a new perspective. "When my rope stops moving, I'd think, 'I've made a mistake,'" says Spencer. "I really had to change my mind. You have to turn it into something that draws the crowd in, so the next time you do it, they go crazy they're so excited for you."

Accomplished when she joined Cavalia's cast of 42 humans and 50 horses, Spencer has talents that have escalated in the show. "The trick riding here is very complicated. People come from either side at different times. It's not like we all come from one side and then go back," she explains. "I've learned a lot. It's great working with people from all over the world. We all have different techniques and everyone's willing to share. I think my riding abilities have become a bit more international."

She performs six tricks aboard the 12-year-old American Quarter Horse gelding, A Tad Like Dad, in one of Cavalia's most energetic acts. "Tad's awesome. He's very solid, so I never worry about him taking care of me." Her repertoire? "I do suicide drag, one foot [one foot in a strap, the other in the air], and either an around-the-horn vault or a Stroud," describes Spencer. "I also do tail drag alone and after that, I do a hippodrome-tail drag." A trick involving precise coordination between two riders on a single horse, Spencer's human counterpart Renny Spencer is another Riata alumni. "Renny stands up doing the hippodrome, then she throws me a scarf and I drop into a tail drag. The last pass I do a shoulder stand. It's like a handstand on the shoulders."

Tail Drag (Spencer Rose on the tail, Renny Spencer standing on the horse)

Of all, tail drag is Spencer's favorite. "There is that danger aspect and it really draws the crowd in. Every once in a while, something happens, but I'm always able to think through the adrenaline rush. Everything slows down and I can think how to get into the trick and what I need to do to make it look just perfect. When I'm upside down, I'm like, 'Am I smiling? What are my hands doing?' I'm really paying attention."

Off stage, Spencer is equally embracing life on tour and making a hobby of learning French. "We get to live in each city roughly four to six weeks. I think it is really important to try to see everything we can. In St. Louis, I went to see the St. Louis Arch. In Mexico, we went to the Pyramids, Acapulco, Mazatlan. When we were in Minneapolis, it was the Great Mall of America." So far, Quebec City is her favorite. "It was one of those cities I always wanted to visit."

Coming to San Diego couldn't please Spencer more. "I cannot wait! Everyone is excited. I was actually just there. We did a promotion at Petco Park—the first pitch at the Padres baseball game. Three of us started at home base and our Moroccan acrobats did backflips all the way around the pitcher's mound. I went to the center and did Texas Skips. The acrobats built a pyramid and I threw the ball to the top. Then, the guy at the top, threw the ball to the Padres catcher."

Spencer Rose Litwack - Cavalia Night at the Padres. Photo by Scott Wachter

Captured on YouTube, Spencer will never forget, "Out of the entire thing, I was most nervous about throwing the ball to the top of the pyramid. There were 25,000 people there!"

Cavalia opens Tuesday, Nov. 13 under the White Big Top, adjacent to Petco Park in San Diego. Call 1-866-999-8111 or visit www.cavalia.net for ticket information.