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The Faces of ‘Odysseo’

Candace Wade meets the horses and people that make Odysseo happen.

Elise and her horses at liberty. All photos by Ilona Gerou.

Candace Wade is following the arrival of unique equine performance Odysseo to her home state of Tennessee. If you missed her first report, check out the raising of the tent and meeting the horses.

The melody of a French tête-à-tête-à-tête sparkled behind me. The luminous herd of at-liberty Arabian horses flowed in front of me.  This was the “Horses Gallop into Nashville” media event I attended on August 24 in the big tent of Odysseo in Nashville, TN.

Adrien and Pearl.

This time I saw some horses in action, was able to stroll around the circle of stalls to get nose on nose with the horses and to interview some of the engaging people who help bring the Cirque du Soleil/Cavalia magic to Odysseo.

I received VIP treatment thanks to Christy Walker-Watkins and Cheri Cranford of Aristo PR. They contacted the delightfully agreeable Eric Paquette (Director of PR and Communication for Cavalia, Inc.) to arrange for me to interview a couple of people whom my friend (and former Odysseo rider) Emmy Love suggested I seek out. Two were Mathieu Bianchi (Equestrian Director) and Elise Verdoncq (rider and mistress of the “Liberty” ballet). A few of the kind and dedicated horse handlers smiled for our camera, too.

Mathieu Bianchi and Drago.

Mathieu has been with Cavalia/Odysseo for close to eight years. I asked him how he chose specific horses (breed and personality) for specific acts? “Body shape, personality and mental interest in the activity.” He likes Quarter horses for tricks like the “Roman” and cowboy scenes. He wants a fast horse that is able to slide. For the “Cossack” riding he looks for a smaller horse that is fast, has good balance and is a little higher in the front for more strength in the neck.

Why do you work here? “I love the horses. Each day, hour is always different because of the horses.” Mathieu told me the horses are his passion. He enjoys connecting with them. At Odysseo horse health comes first. “We support the horses.”

I was able to watch Elise work with her Arabians, ask a few questions with the group and then we talked alone. Elise has been with Cavalia/Odysseo for seven and a half years. I was thrilled to find that I saw her perform the “Pas de Deux” in Cavalia in Scottsdale, AZ in 2013.

What do you for look in a liberty horse? “I want them to play – to be curious – and nice in a group.” She likes the Arabs because they look amazing and have energy. We could see the hierarchy among the liberty horses. A nip or flick of the ear put a pushy member of the team back in his place.

Liberty horses.

Why do you work here? “I build a trust. I am comfort. If something distracts or upsets them, they will scatter (even during a show), but they come back to me for safety. The work is hard – long hours – but I desire to be with the horses. They are good therapy.”

I re-met some of the horses, Cowboy, Mikko and Drago. I stopped dead in my tracks when I spied Quartz. Handler Adreanne Dumont introduced the 17-hand Selle Francais (French riding horse). Deep, glossy brown and gregarious. Again, I swear I did not touch Quartz, he nuzzled my ear.

Candace and Cowboy.

Thank you to photographer Ilona Gerou for the 200 amazing shots she took for me.

The next event is the August 29th “Exclusive Media Preview,” then I get to attend the August 30 Premier Performance. I have paid full rack for VIP second row seats on September 6th. How lucky can one lady get?

Horses taste a camera.

Odysseo runs in Nashville from August 30 through September 10.

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