WINNIPEG — Rural folks have a hard time getting away for a holiday, especially when they are caring for animals. But what if the animals need a holiday? Those logistics are equally as daunting.
For the several dozen four-legged cast members of the show Cavalia Odysseo, getting a break requires a lot of planning by their handlers.
Cavalia Odysseo was in Scottsdale, Arizona, in early 2018 and, once the show closed there, the operation was torn down and transported north to Winnipeg where it opened May 12. The horse performers were the first to leave.
“In the show we recreate nature on stage,” says Eric Paquette, the show’s director of publicity.
When the production moves to be rebuilt in a new location, the horses are given a break in a natural environment.
“Our site becomes a construction zone as soon as the last show ends around 5 p.m. on a Sunday, so we take them (the horses) to the next stop and they stay at a host farm until the new site is ready.”
But finding a facility large enough to accommodate about 70 horses is not easy. First the Cavalia staff connect with the equestrian community where they are going.
“We do a lot of homework to find what is available and what the stables are like and if there is access to pasture,” says Paquette.
“It’s like camp for horses and it’s part of our philosophy of caring for them; we give them the best conditions. They don’t get ridden. They are just playing.”
Once a location is identified, it is kept secret. Like Hollywood stars or rock musicians, Cavalia’s horses have their share of fans.
As well, like any human vacation in which the vacationer wants to relax and be left alone, the horses’ privacy is protected so fans don’t show up wanting access.
One of the equestrian organizations that Cavalia contacted was the Manitoba Horse Council and its executive director, John Savard.
“At first we were looking for a farm, but we couldn’t find a place for all the horses,” Savard says.
Then the organization decided to host the horses at its Equine Centre in Bird’s Hill Park outside Winnipeg. The site hosts 16 horse shows annually with stalls for up to 120 horses, exercise and show rings, and paddocks.
“Our facility is isolated and quiet and the horses had the whole place to themselves,” continues Savard. “We had to prepare the site, such as blowing the snow out of the rings, and set up 12 paddocks.”
He adds that the Cavalia grooms tended to the horses’ every need once their vacation resort was ready.
The logistics of moving the horses and allowing them breaks from their trailers every five hours and seeing to their feed and water needs is a significant task for the largest touring show in the world. Finding them a vacation spot is part of the process.
Savard said it was an honour to host the horses and the council would do it again, if asked. He adds the experience has the council thinking about making the centre a multi-season facility.
“The horses are the heart and soul of everything we do,” adds Paquette. “We literally roll out a red carpet when we deliver them to the (new performance site).”
After a vacation cavorting in paddocks in a quiet corner of the province, the horses were ready to perform under the big top when the show opened in Winnipeg.
It runs until July 8.