Equila (Cavalluna); Backstage life, by Kat Pickering

I finished University in 2015 and within three years was performing around the country in live shows as well as working as a groom and riding on films, so Christmas 2018 was an odd time for me; I had broken my leg in October and faced my first real break from work and performing. Around 10 weeks after this break I was asked to perform at Olympia with The Devils Horsemen, which was the highlight of a brilliant year, but then I faced a quiet winter after my time off and I was concerned I wouldn’t have any work for a while.


January came and I was asked to do a week on Star Wars, grooming - a very exciting job, but it looked likely that there wouldn’t be much work following this and the drive home was bittersweet. It was on that drive that I had a call from a friend of mine, Livui Biccoci, asking if I would be interested in coming to France for an audition. He was going to give my showreel to his boss and call me the following day, if I was successful, for an invitation. At this point I had no idea what the job was or what I was expected to do!


The following day he contacted me at 11am and by 5pm I was on a flight to Nimes. By midnight I had been picked up by a stranger at an airport and taken to a farm where I was put in a wooden hut for a night with two random Italians (who are now friends of mine!). My audition could have gone better - I was still recovering from my fully snapped leg (I am pretty sure I re-fractured it at Olympia…), and I was not used to trick riding on a circle. But for whatever reason I was offered a place on the Hasta Luego team at Equila, Cavalluna, in Munich Germany.


For those who do not know what Cavalluna is, imagine a West End production, but with horses and in German! Cavalluna is a touring company, who still tour around Germany. Equila was the sister show that was based in Munich and has since finished production. I was to be a trick rider and the back up for the lead female part.


I was made to feel immediately welcome when I arrived in Munich. I met my team (who have become lifelong friends) and I was invited to watch the show on my first day. Realising how massive this show was I started to panic that I wasn’t going to be at the level of the other riders… everyone was AMAZING… I realised I had a lot of work to do! I was then introduced to my two horses, two Lusitano stallions called Vulcain and Pachuco. Both horses taught me many things, but Vulcain will forever be the horse of my dreams - 16h, grey, and with a real aptitude for learning, I had the most incredible time working with him.


I spent the first three days having dressage lessons with my boss, Erik Hasta Luego, who was visiting for the week to help me train, and I had to learn the ridden choreography for the show. On the Friday we had a full trick riding practice and it was so intense. I wasn’t used to the saddles which bruised me in more places than I care to describe. My horse was fantastic, but learning to balance and trick ride on a circle was very different to my experience on a straight line. I managed to get three tricks polished and then I had to prepare for my performance.


When the day came, I was so nervous! Thankfully, my friend Emma backstage literally told me when to go through the doors (there were 5 different ones and it was VERY HARD TO REMEMBER!). I just about scraped through and managed to pull off my safe tricks without too much going wrong! Now it was time to work hard the following week to learn all of the choreography of Amara, the lead part.


Learning this was hard because suddenly it wasn’t just trick riding or dressage, I had to learn to stand on two of my team mates’ shoulders whilst they cantered around, and I had to vault on to another horse’s bottom after one of the lads had done the under the belly trick. Seems simple right? Well it would have been if I didn’t have a broken leg! I was really struggling after nearly two weeks of intense training and I was in so much pain. I confided in my friend James, who incidentally smashed up his leg the week I arrived, so he took me aside and we spent 3 afternoons practicing vaulting onto a barrel.


The full dress rehearsal was terrifying because the big bosses who create the shows were watching and giving us guidance and suddenly this felt a whole lot more professional than what I had been used to - where I turn up in a grass field and put on a nice show. This was a very real, huge production! I got through it with some notes to work on, but I hoped that Julianne wouldn’t ever need me to fill in for her!

After my first two weeks I settled into the most amazing routine. I loved working at Equila, my friends were fantastic and I was surrounded by incredible performers. When I needed help with trick riding I spoke to my team mates, when I needed dressage help I spoke to members of the Valencia team, when I wanted to try something new I spoke to anyone who knew how to do it. It was the most amazing learning environment and every single day was a school day.


With my two friends Giorgi and Emma, we created a liberty performance with our three horses for an ‘Equila’s Got Talent’ competition, when the riders from the tour came to perform in Munich. I had worked with Vulcain at this point for only a few weeks and I hadn’t even tried liberty with him. He obviously had some liberty training before me so I was able to progress quickly to create our performance. It was one of my favourite performances to date, as we had a full back drop of woodland behind us, gorgeous music and we all lived out our liberty performance fantasy with three white horses. We didn’t win, but the competition was high and I loved every second. We also got to know everyone on the tour and really create friendships and working relationships that have given us all more opportunities.


So what did the shows look like from back stage? Once I had learnt the choreography it was actually straightforward. Our team didn’t start on stage until nearly the end of the first half. The premise of the story was a young boy that found a horse and went on a journey to create a relationship with his horse and eventually win a tournament against the wild people. Along the way he meets many people but he falls in love with a wild girl called Amara, who helps him at various stages. Our entrance was very fast paced. Amara did the first trick coming in from the middle door and then there was a complex choreography with 6 trick riders coming through 4 different doors at different times. Backstage we would line up behind our entrance and wait for the stagehands to yell ‘Go’ so we did not miss our entrances! Our horses knew - they would shoot out so fast, much faster than training - we would do one full circuit in trick and then quickly back into the saddle before squeezing through the exit. I had my biggest learning curves here, I became more aware of my body and my horse, I could feel when something was wrong now. I was no longer just a passenger hoping to survive. Now I could control my body and my speed. I was aware of my horse feeling unbalanced, aware of other people on the stage. There really was no other feeling like it.


The snowy winter began to relent and with spring came the sun. I started cycling into work. I was training higher level movements to Vulcain, including Piaffe, Passage and Changes. My family decided that they would come and visit me in Munich for Easter weekend, with my brother, who was in the UK for a short time before leaving for New Zealand. On Saturday morning I was in hair and make-up at 9am when I was told that I was to be performing as the LEAD! Poor Julianne had hurt her ankle in training on the Friday, but I hadn’t been aware of how bad it was. I was already nervous for my family to come, but now I had all this new choreography to remember, my entire show was completely different. Thank goodness for the wonderful Vulcain as he pretty much did the part for me, the backstage staff kept me going through the right doors, I performed all my biggest tricks and it is to date the best performance I’ve ever done! My brothers laughed at my costume and we then had a lovely holiday in Munich for a few days.


I found out in May that the show was closing from June 1st. I had been concerned that I was missing a huge amount of work in the UK, so I knew I would be leaving on that date and returning home. I started to make plans, but it was so sad leaving my Equila family. I am so grateful for the most amazing opportunity that this show was for me and I would go back in a heartbeat if they were to put on another one.


You can still watch this incredible horse show perform in Europe on the Cavalluna Tour. Many of the riders from Equila now perform in this show and it will run again from next October. It is in German, but you can get an English translation and you would be wowed with some of the most incredible displays of horsemanship and performance!




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Comments: 3
  • #1

    Emma Tytherleigh (Thursday, 21 May 2020 10:01)

    Beautifully written and brought back some great memories. Bravo Kat x

  • #2

    Steph Armstrong (Thursday, 21 May 2020 11:08)

    A lovely insight into an amazing career. Well written Kat. Another talent to add to your repertoire xx

  • #3

    Giorgia Kolias (Thursday, 21 May 2020 11:32)

    Ohhh � that brings back some memories.. xx