California Riding Magazine • January, 2013

The Gallop:
Valitar Aftermath
The dust from the show's cancellation
is far from settled.

by Kim F. Miller

Mark and Tatyana Remley have somehow sequestered themselves in the month following the abrupt cancellation of their equestrian theater show Valitar. It seems unlikely, however, that the pair will be able to stay out of the spotlight long.

The company that created much of Valitar's staging and special effects, ShowTec, Inc., has filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, that none of the nearly $1.1 million in initial staging expenses had been paid.

Meantime, the Del Mar Fairgrounds is wondering what to do with the big red tents and other equipment still standing in its parking lot as of mid-December. Costs to remove them are estimated between $300,000 and $500,000. At least the Fairgrounds received deposits that have so far prevented it from going in the hole over the show's cancellation, the Del Mar Times reports.

The performers and administrative staff weren't so fortunate.
The Remleys closed the show and abandoned its performers on Thanksgiving eve, Wed, Nov. 21. The production debuted to the general public Friday, Nov. 16, at the Fairgrounds. California Riding Magazine's staff was there and we enjoyed the show, although it seemed, for the most part, a lesser stepchild to the longtime touring production of Cavalia.

Cast and crew got word of the show's cancellation via a text from Mark Remley to the show's PR director on that Wednesday morning. The show's marketing and social media coordinator Kerri Ewing described it as a "total blindside." The night before, staffers reported, the Remleys arranged for several of their own horses to be taken out of the tent. The caretakers on duty were told they were going off to a PR engagement. On Wednesday morning, stunned castmembers gathered in the tent absorbing the news that there would be no more shows and the Remleys' company, Equustria Development, had been liquidated. Friday Nov. 23 was the next payday but there were no paychecks then, nor since, leaving all out three weeks' wages and jobless going forward.

Immediate Community Response

The San Diego horse community responded immediately. With support of the Fairgrounds and led by equine entertainment veteran Sylvia Zerbini, several performers and locals got to work on a benefit show to help support the horse and human cast. Entitled Liberté, the Dec. 8 performance was a sell-out attended by an estimated 1,600-plus. The show was well received and netted a reported $58,000. Proceeds not spent on production costs were used to give Liberté performers transport home, if they chose, and a week's pay.

Part of Syliva Zerbini's performance during Liberté's sold-out show in San Diego. Photo ©Donna Delikat, DxD Photography

Liberté's reception reflected the San Diego equestrian community's quick and generous response to the castmembers' plight. From hay to housing, San Diegans stepped in to help. Gestures ranged from providing diapers for a performer's baby to tracking down the whereabouts of several horses that had not been accounted for.

Linda Holst is one of many San Diegans to help. She confirms that Liberté was a hit, but notes that challenges remain. "There are still a lot of performers in need of help," Linda reports. "At the moment, we are regrouping and trying to help them find a way to make a living." This is the case for most of the performers who stayed in San Diego to be part of Liberté. Others went their own way right after Valitar closed.

Another chapter of the Valitar story is playing out quietly in Las Vegas. Vaulters-turned-entertainers Alethea Shelton and Erik Martonovich of the well-known Big Horse Productions were originally hired by the Remleys in production and creative capacities. They worked with their team on the show for six months. "Seventy-five percent of the cast walked with us when we left," Alethea reports. "The producers basically fired us and tried to take our show concept. The original concept of the show was loosely based on a gladiator theme and Erik and I named the show Valitar. Now we have no name and all of the publicity is on a cast that was there only for a fourth of the time that we were."

Members of the Big Horse Productions troupe were part of the original Valitar cast.
Photo ©FelixGPhotography

Alethea says she and Erik warned those who stayed behind that they would likely not get paid before they returned to their Las Vegas home base. The pair has nothing bad to say about the cast who replaced them in Valitar, but they do want to get the word out "we had the rug yanked out from us just as badly."

After serving Remley with legal notice that he could not use their concept, Big Horse Productions hopes to execute it on their own in the future. "We have been working on this for a decade and we came the closest to having our show with Valitar," Alethea says. Having cancelled all prior performances for a year to commit to Remley, "We have basically been shell-shocked for the last two months." Many of their performers remain jobless and some, like Alethea, have taken any work they can to help buy hay for their troupe's horses.

Where Are The Horses?

The welfare and whereabouts of several, probably seven or eight, of the show's horses remains a big concern. When the Liberté show began to take shape, Linda Holst says supporters tried to get back some of the horses removed on Thanksgiving eve. They hoped to include them in the performance.

Volunteers including famous jockey Julie Krone helped track down several of those horses to Happy Trails Ranch in Imperial Beach. "We went out to observe them and, ideally, to get at least a few back for their riders to use in the Liberté show. (Fellow volunteer) Linda Harris was able to negotiate the purchase of Spade, a favorite horse in the cast who was notable for having a bent ear." As many as 12 Valitar horses were reportedly at the Ranch. How many of these were owned by the Remleys, their company Equuestria Development, or by the performers is unclear.

Garrett Winne, a horse trainer with the Valitar crew, acknowledges that he was the point person for the sale of some of these horses. He says he sold four horses on the Remleys' behalf and is now done with any connection to horses that were involved with the show and/or the Remleys, except for one Remley-owned horse that is currently boarded and in his care at Happy Trails, with its board paid.

Garrett describes himself as caught in the middle of the situation and now is clearly ready to be done with it all. "I'm just going to let everything play out," he says. "Everybody else is freaking out, but I'm going to see where it all goes and what happens. You can't let stuff like this take you down. You have to grow up and get back to your life."

Garrett suggests the Remleys may have several horses at their home in Rancho Santa Fe and that they may be currently for sale. Calls to Mark Remley for this and past articles were not returned. Meanwhile, the rumors swirl, including those of astronomical price tags for the horses and the seemingly contradictory fear that they would end in Mexican slaughterhouses.

"As long as these (missing) horses are not served, this is not going away," says Linda Harris, a leader of the volunteer efforts to help human and equine performers. "We have enough very interested people to keep this thing going until it is publicly known that those horses are in good hands."

Many At Home

The majority of the 46 horses used in the show have been accounted for. Shortly after the Liberté performance, star Sylvia Zerbini went home to Ocala, FL with 20. These include the 10 beautiful white Arabians she works with in her Grand Liberte act, and seven used in a routine starring her daughter.

Sylvia was disappointed not to include Bolero, a handsome bay Andalusian, on the trip home. She signed on to Valitar just five weeks before the show's opening, accepting the challenge because she was confident her unique way with horses could bring about the miracle required by that timeframe. During that time, she formed a special bond with Bolero and so was especially concerned that Thanksgiving eve when he was gone one hour after she'd checked in on him. "After seeing some photos taken of him later, I texted Mark and Garrett asking them to trade (the horse) to me in exchange for the funds they owed me. Garrett's reply was that the horse was not his to sell and that, if he were for sale, he would be $80,000. For a horse that I know would not pass a vet check and was not worth that kind of money."

Sylvia has since seen photos of Bolero appearing in good condition, but she worries about his mental state and leaving him behind still stings. "For them, I think the horses are more like props," she concludes. "For us, there is an emotional connection: they are part of our family."

Another six horses from the act featuring Sylvia's sister and trick riding brother-in-law are happily settled at Horse Spirit Ranch in Bonsall, where owner Lynne Hayes opened the stable's gates for them.
Friesian Focus breeder Joan Fernandez reports that Valitar's owners called her immediately upon the show's closing and negotiated a quick repurchase for tandem driving stars Ids and Tieme. Both are now back at her Murrieta ranch. Other horses were owned by cast members and some reports say that a few performers have worked out deals to buy the horses they rode in the show.

Many believe the full story of the unaccounted-for horses will remain a mystery, but there's no doubt about who emerged as the star of this unfortunate saga: the San Diego equestrian community.

Ninth generation theater performer Sylvia Zerbini puts it best in explaining one of her priorities going forward. She hopes to create a production of her own, likely with fewer special effects and more emphasis on the silent interaction between horse and human. "One of our main goals is to work our way back to California," she says. "We want to give them an incredible show because the people of San Diego were so amazing. I don't know what we all would have done without them."