Horses being directed by a woman

This week’s blog is a bit different. It features Elise Verdoncq, a liberty horse performer with Cavalia, which I personally describe as Cirque du Soleil with horses. Elise has been working on the show for many years, and it was great chatting with her about some of the behind-the-scenes information.

Woman kneeling next to a horse

1. Tell us about growing up in France and your equestrian background; what discipline did you enjoy most?

I’ve always been really interested in dressage. When I was younger I was doing a little bit of vaulting. I learned most of what I’m doing by myself, and a little bit since I joined Cavalia. I never expected to do this as a job. I was studying law and I was supposed to become a lawyer and I finished my degree, then I learned that they were looking for people in Cavalia and I tried out for the show and they hired me.

2. What do you enjoy most about working with the horses of Cavalia?

Every day the show is different because the horses are acting different and every day there is a surprise of how the horses are going to act.

3. Is there a horse that you feel a special connection to? If so, tell us about them.

I have a special connection with my liberty horses. I have to be really connected to them to do what I am doing; liberty is basically having the horses completely free around me and I make them do a choreography with my voice and body language. In order to have the horses listen to you, you really have to go with them and work on the trust. I spend a lot of time with my horses. I can pretty much tell how they’re going to react. It’s pretty cool.

4. What is the training schedule like?

For the riders, it depends. Since I have nine horses in liberty, plus two in training and I’m riding two dressage horses, I usually start my days pretty early, because I have to spend a set amount of time with every horse. So I would start around 8:00 and be at work until the end of the show.

5. Tell us about first appearing on stage for Cavalia; were you ever nervous?

Oh yeah, at the beginning I was really nervous because I had never performed in front of a big audience, and I was scared that the horses would feel my fears and just not listen to me. Actually, it was really easy, and the horses were really nice and I learned not to get nervous.

6. What is the funniest thing to ever happen while performing?

I have horses in liberty that sometimes – at the end of my act, I run and they should follow me off the stage – it has happened already a bunch of times, that some horses just decide to not come with me and stay on stage. They start to have fun on their own and the audience really thought that I had trained the horses to do that. I was like, no, it’s just the horses decided to have a little bit more fun; maybe they didn’t get enough applause or something, but they just wanted to stay on stage.

7. How long have you been working with Cavalia, and what places have you visited?

It’s been seven years, so I’ve visited a lot of places. Right now, we’re in Chicago, I’ve been to Montreal, I’ve been to Toronto, Vancouver, Denver, Dallas, Miami – so many cities.

8. Why do you think Cavalia is so popular, and why does the idea of horses speak to everyone?

I think Cavalia is so popular because you have the horses but you also have the acrobats and the musicians, and the live singer. I think it’s popular because you get to visit the stable and you get to see how the horses are really well treated, and that we take really good care of them. As you see the performance, you see the horses are free and they are still horses. They are not acting like a machine that is always doing the same thing.

9. What are you most proud of in regards to Cavalia?

We do pretty much everything for the horses, and I think that can be really good.

10. Is there anything new that you are working on that you’d like to share?

I’m working on training two new horses for liberty, so it’s a really long process but a really good experience. The horses are really learning fast and it’s great to have them really enjoy being with me and trust me. It’s just always a pleasure when you start to listen to your horses.