Riders take risks while striving for success on ‘Odysseo’ stage

A Cavalia rider performs during the “Odysseo” media preview in February at Marymoor Park.  - Andy Nystrom / Reporter
A Cavalia rider performs during the “Odysseo” media preview in February at Marymoor Park.
— image credit: Andy Nystrom / Reporter

In a rare occurrence earlier this month, according to Cavalia public-relations director Eric Paquette, an “Odysseo” trick rider lost her balance and fell off her horse during a Sunday matinee performance at Marymoor Park.

Rider Mathilde Fraysse was transported to a local hospital and didn’t sustain any injuries, said Catherine Major, Cavalia’s local press representative.

As of last week, Fraysse was back on site, but not back in the show.

“She’s a little bit sore. It was nothing dramatic,” Paquette said over the phone from Dubai, where another Cavalia show was about to open. “Odysseo,” an equestrian and performing arts show that features an array of acrobats, will run at Marymoor through April 6.

Fraysse’s horse, Greco — a Spanish Purebred — was also uninjured during the March 9 performance, and Paquette noted the horse and rider were interacting soon after the accident in the Marymoor stables and paddocks.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of riders in my years here and I’ve heard the same thing over and over is that ‘without the relationship with the horse, without the trust with each other, we would not even go on stage together,’” Paquette said. Fraysse and other Cavalia riders were not available for interviews because they were involved in training for the show.

Paquette noted that during Cavalia shows, there are first responders on site and there’s always a physiotherapist present during shows and training. He said he was proud of the way everyone handled Fraysse’s accident in a smooth and professional manner.

“It’s never easy because it’s someone that we know, someone that we love,” he said.

Cavalia officials and performers can’t control everything that goes on during the shows, but Paquette said they inspect every area of the dirt stage before any activity commences under the White Big Top.

“We’ve been really lucky over the course of the history of Cavalia that no major injuries ever happened, but at the same time it’s very unpredictable,” Paquette added. “When you work with animals, it has the element of unpredictability. There’s a lot of room for improvisation. Because you work with horses, you never know how they’re going to react. They’re animals, they have a mind of their own, they have their own personality. Some of them are more patient, some of them are not as patient.”

In January 2012, “Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Man and Horse” opened at Marymoor Park.

Rider Fairland Ferguson noted in a Reporter story that “trick riding is very technical.”

With Cavalia, Ferguson, Fraysse and others perform flips and twists while riding a horse that is speeding across the arena. While some tricks require riders to be strapped to the horses by their feet, Ferguson said they are not strapped in to the point where they cannot fall.

Ferguson is also a Roman rider and performs standing with each foot on a horse as the two animals run side by side around the arena. “Odysseo” features Roman riders, as well.

“It’s a lot of thinking and control and concentrating,” she said in the 2012 story. “Your mind does not wander when you Roman ride.”

Paquette said the riders don’t work in the safest environment in the world and they are aware of the risks they take when hopping on their horses and performing tricks. Taking risks is also part of the adrenaline rush during the show, he added.

“They’re professional and they know how to fall, as well. There’s a way to fall to prevent severe injuries,” Paquette said.

Riders don’t wear safety equipment like helmets or pads because they’re not in a competition and are not pushing the horse to do something extreme, Paquette said. They’re displaying the relationship between the horse and rider and taking the audience on a journey. (Paquette wasn’t at liberty to discuss any Cavalia liability injury forms.)

Being strong in mind and body are keys to a rider’s success — it’s their responsibility — Paquette stressed.

“They cannot just live in fear that something will happen or one day they will lose balance,” he said. “They want to surpass themselves. They are show people, they want to shine on stage, achieve new things each night.”

Kathy Sternoff, owner of The Union Hill Ranch in Redmond, has attended Cavalia shows at Marymoor Park in 2012 and this month.

“It takes a lot of skill to do what they do,” said Sternoff, who was present at the show where Fraysse took her spill.

At Sternoff’s full-care horse-boarding facility, which opened in 1989, riders don’t perform tricks, but she constantly stresses safety.

“Not a lesson goes by when we don’t talk about safety,” Sternoff said, adding that  families sign a Hold Harmless Agreement, which notes that youngsters ride at their own risk.

Sternoff said the riders always wear helmets when they’re atop the horses on the soft-footing indoor and outdoor areas.



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