Holy Horse Apples

Let me solve one mystery right upfront. During the two hours of Cavalia's Cirque du Soleil-inspired spectacle combining horses, riders, acrobats and aerialists, not a single animal was seen to relieve itself. Forty-seven horses, most of which had a part in last night's show: Not a dribble, not a turd.

Now that is amazing. I've been around horses a little, and I've always been impressed with the majestic nonchalance with which they relieve themselves. Could be in the post parade of the Kentucky Derby. At a dressage clinic. On a mountain trail. They stop what they're doing; ease into this slow, stiff-legged walk; cock the tail ever so slightly and let loose. Plop, plop, plop.

So after the show, which opened last night for a three-week run under the enormous white "big top" we've all seen beside the Tollway, I walked back into the stables and asked my big question.

"It happens," a rider told me. "A lot of times you don't notice it because there's a lot going on, but it happens. There's nothing we can do to control it."

He did say that when the horses warm up, they know they're going to work. And when you're working hard, you just don't think about that.

Fair enough. It happens. I just never saw it.

I did see a woman standing on two galloping horses, a leg on each animal's back, holding the reins of two others and wildly circling the stage. That was amazing too. And I saw trick riders zipping by at a dead run, leaping in and out of the saddle, doing headstands and other acrobatic maneuvers. Cavalia is an expensive ticket, but there's nothing like it out there. Tickets are still available; get yourself one if you can. Doesn't seem like there are any bad seats. Your kids will be thrilled by it. There's not a boring moment

You don't have to be a horse person to enjoy Cavalia, but a little knowledge will help you appreciate some of the more intricate acts, like the dressage exercises performed without bridle or bit--just a simple collar around the horse's neck. Normand Latourelle, one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil and the force behind Cavalia, said afterward that it took 12 years of training to perfect this particular stunt.

The horses themselves are stunning; an albino Lusitano--a Portuguese breed--features in many of the acts. He's gorgeous. There are Appaloosas, Quarter Horses and Belgians. All of them, by the way, are stallions or geldings. That's a feat in itself. Stallions are seldom used in any kind of equine performance except racing; they're far too headstrong and difficult to train.

The staging and lighting are outstanding. You have to appreciate the logistics behind a show in which dozens of animals, many without harness, are ushered on and off a stage--mostly at a run--for two hours of utterly seamless performance. You'll probably never see anything like it. --Julie Lyons

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