Visually Impaired Youth Visit 'Cavalia'

‘Cavalia’ (credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – The stable tent at ‘Cavalia’ is filled with the sound of horses. Neighing, snorting, foot stomping. The click clacks of their shoes on the cement floor fill the air, which is heavy with the smell of dust, hay, sweat and the unmistakable odor of horse dung. It is cool under the white tent.

“It’s like silk!” one of the boys from Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired said when his hand touches Joe, a massive brown horse. Joe, like the other 49 horses in ‘Cavalia’, is washed and groomed at least once a day — twice if he performs — leaving his coat remarkably soft.

About 13 blind and visually impaired young people, ranging in age from 6 to 18, came to ‘Cavalia’ in San Jose Friday for a special behind-the scenes tour.

The show is an equestrian-oriented combination of dance, acrobatics, aerial performances and live music that centers around the relationship between humans and horses.

The show was created by Normand Latourelle, a co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, and will run in San Jose at the big top at 301 Atmel Way until August 26.

“It’s touching for us, we were all nervous and excited they were coming today,” Eric Paquette, the tour publicist said, adding that this is the first time in the ‘Cavalia”s nine-year run that it has hosted blind and visually impaired youth for a special tour.

But Fairland Ferguson, an exuberant performer whose abilities include “Roman” riding — a feat accomplished by standing on two parallel, galloping horses — doesn’t seem nervous at all as she guides her guests through the farrier station where horses are shoed, through the grooming area, by the granary and into warm up tent over the course of more than an hour.

“My mother worked at a school for the deaf and blind,” Ferguson said, after showing one young boy a brush by running its bristles over his palm.

At one point an unbridled, unsaddled horse runs past the children through the stable, followed a moment later by his surprised-looking rider, who catches up, then gently leads the horse back towards the warm-up tent using only a guiding hand under the animal’s face. No one seems the least bit bothered.

Nearby, 18-year-old Mary Church holds a stethoscope to Joe the horse’s belly. Church has ridden horses before. “It’s an experience like nothing other. Horses really got me through high school. Socially, school was really difficult for me, just being blind and not fitting in. Horses were a way…to be to be with another being that I feel really cares,” she said.

When summer is over, Church said she plans to leave her home in Hollister to visit a center for the blind in Louisiana where she will learn skills that will help her live more independently. After that, she hopes to come back California to attend college.

At the end of the tour, Paquette asks the group to hold hands and make a tight circle. Four riders who had been warming up their horses, loping in circles on the other side of the tent come over and began circling the group, first at a trot, then a canter. A light breeze builds.

“I can hear them,” someone said.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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