Saddle up for Cavalia


ROMAN WALKING: Antoine Romanoff walks with his Appaloosa horses at Odysseo.

Kelsey Anderson, El Vaquero Staff Writer

With a $30 million budget, Cavalia’s creative directors realized their wildest dreams for “Odysseo,” including a carousel, screen the size of three IMAX screens and a 80,000-gallon lake.

Cavalia has been deemed Cirque du Soleil, but with horses. What many people don’t know is the co-creator of Cirque du Soleil, Norman Latourelle, founded Cavalia in 2003. The show is based out of Montreal and has produced two shows so far: “Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse” and “Odysseo.”

Latourelle found his inspiration while working on a show containing 100 people and only one horse that solely trotted across the stage. He said noticed how everyone’s eyes were transfixed on the horse, that’s when he got the idea for Cavalia.

The co-creater of Cirque du Soleil started watching how horses were used in current shows and decided to combine all the disciplines. With this new show, Latourelle recruited Benjamin Aillaud as the equestrian direction and choreographer. All horses used in “Odysseo” are trained in dressage, jumping, trick riding and Roman. The horses may not have mastered each discipline, but it allows them to develop new muscles and maintain interest in their work.

“What I really like was how kind the trainers were. Even if the horses misbehaved, they didn’t reprimand them,” said Tara Burke, a local trainer from The Paddock Club in Los Feliz. “They seemed to train with positive reinforcements.”

While touring, “Odysseo” purchases new horses and the ones retired return to Cavalia’s farm in Canada. The horses range from as young as 5 to 18 years old. The training process can take months to even years for the horse to be ready. Some may not even make the cut.

Elisa Verdoncq is a trainer and rider who started with Cavalia about three years ago during its first creation. She has two main acts, “Liberty” and a dressage piece.

For the “Liberty” act, Verdoncq stands in the middle of nine off-lead Arabian horses. With her voice commands and body language she can control their choreography. She starts by teaching one horse at a time and gradually includes more horses.

Verdoncq said it’s important for her to have a strong bond with each horse and know how to read their body language. She said that having patience is the most important quality during the training process.

“You really need to be super patient with the horses and be happy with what they’re giving to you. Every night is different,” Verdoncq said. “It’s amazing.”

During the two-hour production, horses and riders demonstrate their bond and athleticism in various ways.

The trick-riding segment displays death-defying stunts. Men and women ride backwards, upside down on the sides of the horses. Some daredevils run along side, remounting every couple steps. One man even climbs under his horse while at a gallop.

Antoine Romanoff, a French native who Roman rides, said he was nervous when he first learned to trick ride. He built his confidence with a lot of practice and established relationships with his horses. He likes having creative say in his acts and he’s glad he can work freely with his horses.

There’s more to “Odysseo” than the four-legged performers. Under the “White Big Top” there is a 15,000 square-foot tent featuring a life-sized carousel and an 80,000-gallon lake that fills within minutes. Behind the stage is a video backdrop the size of three IMAX screens.

The traveling show helps the local economy as well. Cavalia employs 200 locally hired people for the construction and tear down of the show, work in the box office, kitchen, concession, parking and front of house.

The show runs Tuesday through Sunday until March 24.

Cavalia’s “Odysseo” is located in Downtown Burbank at 777 N. Front Street in Burbank, Calif, 91502.

For tickets and more information, visit