Cavalia's white big top is a one-of-a-kind tent that is long enough to allow the horses to get to a full gallop as they soar past astonished audience members.
Photo: Guy Deschênes
Cavalia horses arrive at another opening, another show, as if strutting to Queen's rock'n'roll anthem, We Are The Champions. They face a line of photographers or a tent seating 2000 spectators with the confidence and cool of horses who live in a world of comfort, safety and frolic.
These stars of Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse, recently opened for the first time in Silicon Valley.
Under the signature towering white big top tent at the intersection of Hwy 101 and 87 East, across from the San Jose Airport, this lavish orchestration of the equestrian and performing arts stars 49 horses and 38 acrobats, aerialists, dancers, musicians and riders from around the world, and has been seen by some 3.5 million viewers worldwide.
Keeping these horses engaged in and happy with their jobs for show after show is Cavalia's specialty and it's carried out by a staff with a talent for finding the right balance between variety and routine.
Performing is fun and varied. On the other hand, care requires the regularity of sunrise. "We make the feeding routine and often," says Katherine Logan, stable director and a licensed veterinary technician. "Because horses are grazing animals I keep the feeding as close to natural as possible with hay four times a day,
and grain two to four times, depending on their energy requirements."
Photo: Pascal Ratthe
The Cavalia horses are always stabled next to the same buddies who are also their traveling mates on a flight or road trip.
In the air-ride, padded vans equipped with video monitors that allow the driver to quickly detect any problem, the horses travel in full size shipping boots sometimes covering leg wraps underneath. They all wear tail dock covers and tail bags. The long-haired beauties have their manes braided and wrapped. All halters are softened by fleece covers. "If we could wrap them in bubble wrap, we would," laughs Katherine.
In the roving equine village, stall sizes accommodate the size differences in the show's 11 breeds. They range from 9hh Troubadour, a miniature horse, to 18hh Merlin, a Percheron. Interlocking rubber mats cover barn aisles and stalls floors. Stall walls are shaped by kick proof, sanitary Lexan polycarbonate plastic, a material used for everything from aircraft windows to ice hockey visors.
Photo: Frédéric Chéhu
Saddles specifically designed for the horse, the rider and their job (Stubbens and Wintec for the english horses, personalized saddles for the trick horses), custom shoeing and custom feeding are the order of the day for the Cavalia team.
A full-time veterinarian is on staff and prevention is the medical guideline. Spectators who visit the barns after the show are instructed not to touch the horses, in large part to prevent the spread of disease. "If I suspect a future problem, I will x-ray every six months," says Katherine. "We try not to use artificial supplements. Older horses are on glucosamine."
Horses never perform on anti-inflammatories, pain relievers or antibiotics. "If they are in any discomfort and it can be managed on site, we give them a few days off. Otherwise, they go back to the home farm in Sutton, Quebec, Canada, for a vacation and care until they feel good again."
Performers are groomed to the hilt. Mane 'N Tail and Cowboy Magic are Katherine's products of choice, especially for the exacting task of bathing the many white and light-colored horses in the show.
When the weather is suitable, the horses are turned out daily into a paddock created from portable fencing. The nine, 30' x 40' spaces, large enough for a canter and a roll, have a sand base.
All horses are exercised daily.
Cavalia is a job for life. "The horses are never for sale," emphasizes Gregory Molina, the touring company head trainer. "We are the only company in the world that keeps them for all their life." Barring one exception, horses are retired to live their lives out at the Cavalia farm in Canada.
That exception is the rescue weanlings. Cavalia adopts orphaned or abandoned foals, cares for them and, after they reach a year, adopts them out to good homes. These weanlings are the exception to the show's requirement that equine performers be at least 5 years old.
When Katherine shops for additions to the show roster, she looks for willing, intelligent and bold horses, no older than 12.
"Most important, we will not push them to perform," says Katherine. "Horses are no different than people. They shine when they are doing something they like. And Cavalia is all about
Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse is currently playing in San Jose. It opens in San Diego in mid-November. To buy tickets for the San Jose and San Diego shows visit www.cavalia.net.