Cavalia is a performing company based in Quebec which presents horse shows all over the world.

But that really does not adequately describe them. Think Cirque du Soleil with horses. In a way this is an interesting development, since Cirque was originally developed as a circus without animals!

However, the horse performers at Cavalia are a long way from the elephants at an old-fashioned circus. In an important way, the horses are the stars, and the very talented human acrobats are merely the supporting players.


I went to a Cavalia show in San Jose, California last September, having found out about it just before they left town for the year. Actually I postponed an out-of-town vacation for one day to attend, and I was not sorry.

In a lot of ways it was an odd experience. Held in a giant tented arena near the end of the San Francisco Bay, the seats were priced at $100 each and up, rather like the opera. The facility, however, is a long way from the opera house in every way. Shall we say, less formal. Perhaps some of this is mandated by the presence of so many performing horses. But the audience is very different as well. At the opera, the "snacks" between acts are champagne and little bits of oysters and such: like that. At Cavalia, coke and popcorn and hot dogs. (All the food at both events is being sold at roughly twice fair market value of course.) People who are able to keep horses while living in a big city are by no means impoverished (!) and the arena was full, just as a performance of Richard Wagner's Die Walküre is usually full, but it is rather a different crowd. (I may be one of the few individuals who have actually attended both events.)

Understand that horses are as dumb as rocks. Roughly. Now I like horses as much as the next one, and more than most, but I'm not bewitched by them particularly. They are not anything like as smart as dogs, for example.

Given this fact, it is truly astonishing what the talented and persistent animal trainers have accomplished at Cavalia. It is beyond description. Horses are let loose on stage without a human being there at all and they behave in previously prescribed ways. A group of matched chestnuts, every one a beauty, respond to words and hand signals from a solitary trainer. Not to mention the incredible combined feats: acrobats doing flips in the air, landing repeatedly on the back of a cantering horse who circles a small ring at a steady, unvarying pace, seemingly without human direction. A 20 year old acrobat who, running, matches paces with a galloping horse, and without gear of any sort on the horse leaps effortlessly onto the horse's back, and they go on galloping together. (I wish I could do that!) On and on, marvel after marvel.


The horses are of many breeds, from the gigantic Percherons (that was a 17 hands horse at least cantering around that ring) down to a troop of miniature ponies. Most major breeds are represented, all chosen, one presumes, for performing ability as well as beauty. Interestingly enough, all the horses in the show I saw were males, the majority of them stallions. Stallions - unaltered males, a castrated male horse is called a gelding - are notoriously difficult to manage, but the Cavalia people say they prize stallions for their high energy and what they call their "love of play." This I suspect is a fancy horse-trainers' way of saying that stallions are quite a handful, but worth the effort. There was not a mare in the company at the show I saw, and this may be the case throughout the troupe.

Given that Cavalia is determined to use stallions, the reason is obvious. Throughout the entire summer, a mare will come into season (be ready for breeding) every few weeks. All it would take would be one mare in season to throw a troupe full of stallions into complete disorder. They would be far more interested in fighting each other for access to the mare than they would be in doing anything any human being wanted. (This is perhaps understandable from a human point of view as well. One wonders in passing how Cavalia manages to keep order in its human troupe, consisting as it does of a relatively even mix of young men and young women, every one of them gorgeous.)


More information about Cavalia, together with some striking videos and very beautiful pictures of some very beautiful horses, can be found on their website.

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