November 2016: Behind The Scenes

It's a labor of love in the Odysseo stables.

by Nan Meek

On stage, the 65 horses of Odysseo by Cavalia enchant audiences at every performance, in a marriage of equestrian and stage arts with high-tech theatrical effects that depict the relationship between horses and humans as they journey through a world of dreams.

About the cover: One of the breathtaking scenes from Odysseo by Cavalia, the acrobatic and equestrian spectacular playing from November 16 through January 8 under the White Big Top in Irvine. Photo: Shelley Paulson

Odysseo star Punto and stable director Kristine Alach behind the scenes.

Each horse is only on stage for approximately 12 minutes, so what is the rest of their day like during the other 23 hours and 48 minutes? California Riding Magazine went behind the scenes with stables director Kristine Alach to find out.

Odysseo is double the size of the company’s original production, Cavalia, making it the world’s largest touring show with 65 horses and 48 riders, acrobats, aerialists, dancers and musicians performing under the world’s largest travelling tent, so you know managing its stables is no small task.

As Odysseo returns to Southern California by popular demand, with the first performance on Wednesday, Nov. 16, under the White Big Top at the junction of the I-405 and the SR-133 in Irvine, Alach gave readers an insider’s peek into everyday life in the Odysseo stables.

Join us behind the scenes where caring for the horses of Odysseo is clearly a labor of love.

Horses Rely on Routine

“In my job as stables director, I’m in charge of everything related to the well-being and the health of our horses,” Alach explained. “Any questions or concerns about the horses’ health, maintenance and wellness are within my responsibility.”

Her normal daily routine encompasses working in close collaboration with the horses’ riders and managing the staff that cares for 65 horses and maintains the facilities, stables and riding arenas.

Horses are horses, wherever they call home, so the daily routine in the Odysseo stables closely resembles the daily routine in a large stable anywhere in the world – for the most part.

Between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m., nine staff members arrive to begin turn-out, cleaning, feeding and walking the horses. They prep the stable so it is show-ready, washing the walls and cleaning the water buckets among other tasks.

Photo: Jak Wonderly Photography

Photo: Jak Wonderly Photography

Alach explained that the nine-member morning staff includes local grooms hired from the local area, permanent grooms who travel with Odysseo, and a vet tech as well as a logistics person who operates the machinery and takes care of the bigger maintenance jobs, and a team leader who manages the local and permanent staff who clean and handle the horses.

Between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m., riders start to come in. They do more than work or train their horses; they play with them, just visit them in their stalls or hang out with them in their turn-outs. Having that time together off-stage is essential to building the bond between horse and rider that is so evident on-stage.

Activity really starts to pick up between noon and 2:00 p.m. when the night staff arrives. Ten grooms, their supervisor and two vet techs come in for the rest of the day. The grooms are responsible for physically preparing the horses: brushing them, washing them, walking them and warming them up for the riders. The vet techs monitor the horses and consult on any questions or issues that come up concerning the horses.

By 2:00 p.m. the stable is in full swing as everyone prepares for the 8:00 p.m. performance.

After the evening performance, the night ends for horses and staff around midnight. After the VIP tour of the stable and after the horses have been cooled down and groomed again, and evening hay has been fed, there are the last checks to ensure that every equine is ready to rest for the night. Security checks continue throughout the night, quietly so as not to disturb these equine artists at rest.

For the stable director, it’s a long day from 9:00 a.m. through midnight. As Alach told us, “It’s something I knew when I accepted this job. I’ve worked in a lot of stables and worked with horses in different capacities, and I know that the work never ends. Horses always need to be cared for.

“This is a lifestyle. That’s just the way it is with horses and I love it. To me it doesn’t feel like a big commitment – it’s just part of my daily routine.”

What kind of background prepares someone for taking on the responsibility for 65 priceless performance horses? For Alach, originally from Massachusetts, equine experience began when she was 6 years old, taking beginner hunter/jumper lessons and riding every pony in the stables that she could.

“I actually never owned my own horse,” she explained, “but I have been hired to train and care for other people’s horses, often in extended circumstances.” Primarily based in her home state of Massachusetts, Alach has also worked with horses in Bavaria, New Zealand and France.

“That has given me a pretty good sense of the world equine population and how things can be done differently from country to country. That broader sense is very helpful here, with so many different nationalities represented among the artists and the grooms. It helps me be an effective leader of a diverse population of horse people.”

It also helps that Alach is fluent in French as well as English. With riders from all over the world, working for a company based in French-speaking Montreal, Canada, French is the primary language for many at Odysseo.

“I have to give my mother credit for encouraging me to learn French,” she said. Alach studied the language in high school, minored in French in college, and has used it in jobs around the world. Although she admits that she’s still working to add veterinary terms to her French vocabulary, and she conducts meetings with her vet techs in English, she’s comfortable using French as needed for everything else.

Alach began working for Odysseo in July this year, and said with a laugh, “I’m still super bright and shiny!”

Teamwork and Respect for Horse and Humans

Asked about her first impressions of her position as stable director, Alach replied, “Working at this magnitude, and being a problem solver. My daily routine does not require that I work with any one horse, such as when you are training your own horse, playing or teaching. I work with these horses on a bigger scale, so I need to know how to use my resources and how to take care of my team to make sure that the work gets done and every detail runs smoothly. The horses are truly the hearts and souls of everything we do. In my team, but also as a company.”

Working behind the scenes to ensure that 65 magnificent horses are happy, healthy and ready on cue for the 48 talented riders, acrobats, dancers, and musicians in every Odysseo performance is no ordinary task.

Alach credited the teamwork of her staff. “I have to thank my staff. I could not take care of 65 horses alone. It’s my priority to help my team treat every horse as an individual. We provide individual care so that if there is something bothering a horse, or if they need a special piece of equipment, or whatever they need, it’s taken care of right away. The horses are individuals that are part of this team also.”

It’s clear that the horses are treated as unique individuals behind the scenes as well as on stage, where one day a horse might improvise and that’s okay, they are just being horses.

“It’s a tribute to the horse, to respect his individuality, and I love that,” Alach remarked. “There are many acts where the horses just get to be a horse, completely free on stage and the audience loves that. I keep that philosophy in the stables as well. Everyone here respects and loves the horses, and it is reflected in our work.”

She provided an example. “If one horse is a little bit forward, I think, now how can we help his day? He looks like he needs this or he might do better if we change that technique. This focus on the individual horse and how to help him keeps morale very positive in the stable. It’s very rewarding to help the horses, in the small details as well as the big picture.”

What is Alach’s favorite part of the job? She quickly replied, “The variation – every day is different. Of course, there’s the element of routine, so the hay is fed at the same time, the stalls are cleaned by the same time every day. There’s something cathartic about that sort of schedule in motion. But then anything can happen, and everything will happen with horses – your readers can relate to that! I never know when I wake up what ‘fires’ I will need to put out that day. There’s always something with horses!”

Kristine Alach’s team is committed to the wellbeing of Odysseo’s horses, physically, mentally and emotionally, behind the scenes as well as on stage. She concluded, “The stable staff is simply the best team. We all work together for the good of the horses, and it’s a labor of love.”


Tickets for Irvine are on sale now for performances starting Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016, with matinee and evening performances scheduled through Jan. 8, 2017. For a memorable evening, the Rendez-Vous package offers the best seats in the house, exquisite buffet-dining before the show, open bar, desserts during intermission and an exclusive visit of the stables after the show. These and other tickets can be purchased online at www.cavalia.net or by calling 1-866-999-8111.