High above Chouteau's Pond...For weeks, I’ve been watching the development of Cavalia Village while traversing the Poplar Steet Bridge. Even when only the White Big Top was erect between the Bridge and the carriage horse stable, I was drawn to stop and focus on it’s graceful presence on Chouteau’s Pond, Downtown St. Louis. My anticipation of Cavalia’s St Louis premiere had been building.
Cavalia's White Big Top in St. Louis

So when Cavalia invited Dressage Underground to the photo-op arrival of the horses themselves, I thought “Pourquoi -non?”  Dusted off my rusty photo-journalist self, and organized yesterday to include this picnic on Chouteau’s Pond.

Arriving early,  I was acknowledged with a nod and smile from a happy groundskeeper, and upon donning equipment and opening the trar door, surprised to be greeted by a gracious voice intoning “Are you media?…here to greet the horses’ arrival” “Mais, oui, madame” I replied, and was directed around a muraled security enclosure to the meeting point at the box office.  First to arrive, and greeted once more, I asked to have a respectful look about, and was able to peer through the parted curtains of the performance tent, one of the two exercise tents, the hospitality and staff cafeteria enclosures. Approaching a plexiglass double casement in the curtain wall of the stable tent…”Le Habitat,” I had heard the assembly crew call it…I stopped to read the sign,

and while peering around it, I heard a friendly, French inflected voice “One P.M.”
“I can wait” I said, catching M. Valcour’s grin, as he opened and passed through the portal, and strode in to himself be greeted by the huge gray head of vaulting horse, with whom he stopped to exchange pleasantries. Junior, it seems, had arrived at 10A, had been showered, but not yet shaven, and was eagerly awaiting the arrival of his people.

Media had gathered and were being greeted by M. Pacquette when I returned to the meet point.   Looking up to see two twelve horse transports in tandem approaching The Poplar, and knowing they would exit at 6th, I prepared for

Soon a ramp was down and the sisal carpet rolled out for ‘the artists.’ As human cast and crew greeted one another, the scene unfurling was delightfully and factually narrated by Fairland Ferguson,  who trick and roman rides in the show.


When all of these 25 of the 49 horses were safely “en habitat” we were invited in to have a look around…
and observe preparations for their first sand box frolics in St Louis.  Drawn to the cluster of Iberian grays who dance dressage, I found myself engaged by the graceful motions Tatiana Daviaud, tacking her partner, Goloso. Addressing her in my schoolboy French, she agreed to express her obvious passion for dressage.
When I stopped the film, I became aware, once again, of the presence of M. Valcour, who offered to provide this translation to English:

‘’ In respect to movement, we work to promote balance and agility with a focus on flexibility and relaxation for all of the horses. With these different elements in place, we ensure that the horses feel ready, mentally and physically, to take the stage and turn it into their very own playground each night.. ‘’

Soon, we were ushered  onward past the tack room.. a container with double overhead doors that can be loaded on and off an over-the-road flat bed, and placed in the perimeter of the stable tent. As I paused to snap it, Roman rider Chad Dyson asked whether I wanted him “out of the picture.” “Au contraire, bon homme,I want you IN the picture.”

And onto the river sand footing of a warm-up tent, where we were introduced to several of the horses and riders, including Head Trainer Gregory Molina, and his four graceful accomplices of this concentric circle synchronization.
And got to see Fairland and Chad find their footings on the backs of their Roman pairs.

If I hadn’t “heard” the voice of the schoolmaster calling “HAY,” I ‘d have made a nuisance of myself there in Cavalia Village, the rest of the afternoon. But artists deserve creative privacy.

And Dressage Underground is to return.