Interview with Cavalia's Arabian Liberty trainer Elise Verdoncq
January 20th, 2013
Arabhorse sat down with Elise Verdoncq, Arabian Liberty trainer for Cavalia's hit show Odysseo to find out the secrets to her success and what makes Arabians the perfect breed for the job.
The internationally acclaimed Cavalia pushes the limits of live entertainment with its newest production that is now touring the globe. Cavalia Odysseo is a theatrical experience, an ode to horse and man that marries the equestrian arts, awe inspiring acrobatics and high-tech theatrical effects. Set under a 38-meter tall White Big Top, audiences are transported around the world as more than 50 horses and an international cast play and demonstrate their intimate bond. The 1,393 square meter stage features a real carousel and a magically appearing 302,000-litre lake in front of a stunning video backdrop the size of three IMAX screens. Odysseo is a two-hour dream that will move the heart and touch the soul. It is an evening that the audience will never forget.
Cavalia will then be traveling to Burbank, CA where the show will open February 27th, 2013 and their final stop on the current schedule is Laval, QC, Canada with an opening date of 14th.
Why do you use Arabians for the liberty section of your show?
Arabians work best for the liberty section because they love to work in a team environment. The Arabians are very smart and truly enjoy the game of liberty. The trainer, as well as the other eight horses, is simply a part of the game. The Arabians are a very smart breed, which also makes them very suitable for the liberty act. Lastly the Arabians are a high-energy breed, which keeps the liberty show lively and entertaining!
Have you used other breeds in your liberty act?
Yes, I have worked with Spanish horses before and they are also nice, it just leads for a different style of liberty. The Spanish horses look to the trainer as their boss and follow directions, while the Arabians treat the trainer as part of their herd. Each Spanish horse seemed to stay in a different corner of the stage and do his or her own tricks instead of one cohesive show.
How long does the liberty training process take?
The training of a liberty horse never ends, they are always learning new things. For a liberty team on nine horses to display a basic show the training should take approximately one year.
It is quite obvious during the show that there is a hierarchy amongst the team, how is this determined?
After getting to know each horse the trainer decided which horse will be the lead and which horses will play the other eight roles. Each horse is trained for his or her individual positions in the show and it is important that they keep their place in line. Once the team knows where they all belong they often get upset if one gets out of line, for example if horse #3 attempts to get in front of horse #2, horse #2 will often put horse #3 back into their place. We must keep in mind that the liberty is a game to the Arabians and they can get competitive.
Other than Liberty training what does these horses days consist of?
All of the horses are broke to ride, some are trained as jumpers, some dressage and others are trained as trick horses. This helps both the horses mentally as well as the show. If any of the horses are not feeling well they are quickly pulled from the show, it is important that other horses are trained as backups. Horses can quickly become bored with a routine, riding them a few days a week gives them a break from their liberty training. Each horse is also given turn out time in an outdoor paddock each day.
What is the age range of your Liberty horses?
The youngest member of the liberty team is three years old and the oldest is eight.
There is a lot of commotion and activity going on during the show as well as behind the scenes, but your liberty team seems very comfortable and unaffected by it all; why do you think this is?
The horses look to their trainer as the leader of the herd, if she is unalarmed by the events happening around they feel comfortable and are not stressed. They place a lot of trust in their trainer.
What training tips would you give to anyone interested in doing liberty with his or her horses?
Patience and respect are key. If you give the horses enough time to understand what it is that you are asking of them they are generally happy to work with you. Arabians love to please; you just need to give them the opportunity. Respecting the horse is also very important. You must read their body language, if they look upset of timid you are probably pushing too hard, if they are angry or negative they may need a break. If you force them to do what you are asking it will never happen, you must respect them as animals and have the patience to wait for it all to come together. Just like people, horses have their good days and their bad days, you must accept their mistakes and move onto the next show.