By Patti Schofler
Ah, vacation — 10 days of getting dirty, lazin’ around just you and the bros, maybe watching the girls go by, once in a while feigning a bout of play boxing, getting fat all day eating hay…what? Wait? Hay?
No, these are not a bunch of beach boys on holiday. These vacationers are the equine stars of Odysseo, Cavalia’s newest multimedia extravaganza that began September 14 in downtown San Jose and runs through October under the giant and unique White Big Top near HWY 87 at Julian St exit. The world’s largest touring show features 65 horses and 48 riders, acrobats, aerialists, dancers and musicians in a $30 million production, double the size of the company’s show Cavalia that enjoyed a sold-out engagement in San Jose four years ago.
Odysseo marries the equestrian arts, stage arts, and high-tech theatrical effects where the moving interactions between human and horse are at the heart of the action. On an enormous stage, layers of mesmerizing decor are combined with live music, gravity-defying acrobatics, entrancing aerial stunts and inspiring HD projections.
If the 65 horses could sign contracts, they would definitely sign on for vacation and Odysseo would gladly comply. Between cities, they always have ten days to two weeks to let down their hair (manes) – some more than others – and do nothing but bask in the sun, graze on grass, and roll in the dirt, more than 70 days of pure leisure per year for the equine superstars.
Finding a suitable and spacious place for the 65 travelers in the Odysseo equine troupe is a challenge given to Marco-Olivier Leprohon, director of artistic and equestrian operations for Cavalia. His bailiwick includes the show Odysseo as well the original Cavalia show now in Asia.
“This interlude between shows is part of Cavalia’s horse care and training philosophy, which is based on understanding the needs, preferences, and emotions of the animals, and on mutual respect, kindness, patience, and trust,” Marco explains.
At best, Marco needs sixty-five well built, airy stalls, including ones to safely house the 18 stallions in the show. The remainder are geldings. Mares are not a part of the lineup. Next, he needs grass turnout paddocks pastures. Sixty-five would be his favorite, so he could have the horses out from sun up to sundown. If not, he will do split shifts and pair up buddies.
“We have horses that perform at liberty together, like the Arabians, or are pairs in the Roman Riding scenes, like Mikko and Leroy, who do well turned out together,” describes Marco, as he watches the two Paint Horses Mikko and Leroy grazing on day seven of their vacation. “They call when they are separated. They have a bond so we make sure they are always together. Clearly they are the world’s best friends. On the other hand, Lusitano stallion Omerio who is the senior horse in the group and our star dressage horse does not want to be with others. He knows he is a star and a natural performer. He will even do Spanish walk in his stall when his grain is coming.”
“It is important that the facility be a bit private, without much public access,” explains Kristine Alach, Odysseo stable director. “Also, we want a place that is near the site of the next show so that after they have reaped the rewards of a relaxing vacation, they do not need to trailer far.”
In addition, the Odysseo horses need to be separated from other horses so as to avoid transmission of disease which could shut down the show.
All in all, each horse is catered to according to his personality, and his health and welfare needs. For example, when vacationing between cities in Lexington, Kentucky, the horses stayed at a 400 hectare breeding facility with bluegrass pastures. “The facility was so big that we had to drive to see the horses,” recalls Marco. “At first, they could only stay out on the rich grass for only 15 minutes. They loved it and were pretty hard to catch after those 15 minutes.”
Vacation before the San Jose show was at Gilroy Gaits, in Hollister. The horses had arrived from Portland in eight, air-ride semi-trucks with eight horses per truck in roomy 7’x6’ stalls after a 11-hour drive with stops every three hours to rest and resupply of fresh water and hay. The horses are loose in the stalls, and some found the travel so relaxing that they laid down during the trip.
If the trip between shows is much longer, the horses will instead fly in cargo planes. “We brought some of the Cavalia horses from Singapore to Los Angeles on a 12-hour flight,” explains Marco has been with the company for 10 years and flies with the horses. “They do fine. They are trained to accept sounds and light and people in costumes and things flying overhead. If you have the constant sound of an airplane, and they are eating hay with their buddies, they feel at ease and comfortable.”
During the Gilroy stay, Mikko, Leroy and Cowboy played in a large arena as they were videoed by a small drone flying overhead. They hardly noticed.
“When they are first turned out on vacation, they are jumping around, rolling, enjoying the pastures. Then, after a day or two, they just eat. It’s just want we want for them: rolling and dirty and relaxing.”
The extra-long manes, like that of the stallion Fabuloso which reaches to his knees, will stay braided during vacation. Some stay tied up in wraps because when they put their heads down to eat, they may chew on what needs to be a long and flowing mane in the show.
At each vacation spot and at the show, Odysseo supplies its own timothy hay, purchased at home base outside Montreal, and its own shavings. In addition, every six months the horses are treated to body work by the staff osteopath. Before, during and after transport and vacation, a 20-person stables team including trainers, veterinarian, health technicians and grooms create provide daily health care, grooming and attention.
The spa life does end, but any reluctance by a horse disappears when he reunites with his rider and groom, and, along with his herd, returns to the good life under the White Big Top.
Tickets for San Jose are on sale for performances running through October, including VIP tickets that entitle holders to visit the stables as the horses return to their stalls and a late night meal. These and other tickets can be purchased online at www.cavalia.net or by calling 1-866-999-8111. The show opens in Irvine November 16 for the holiday season.