Bring on the dancing horses: Equestrian artist creates stunning horse show

Story highlights

  • Former stuntwoman creates spectacular equestrian show
  • Clémence Faivre trained in Haute Ecole -- highest form of classical dressage
  • French horsewoman performed her first show in the U.S. in September
  • Faivre has performed her act in more than 10 countries

(CNN)If you thought dressage was all starched shirts, hair buns and tailcoats then Clémence Faivre is about to change your perceptions.

With flowing dresses and dazzling routines, the former stunt artist is helping breathe new life into the ancient art of horse training.
Today, dressage is familiar to most as an Olympic sport, but its origins lie on the battlefield as a discipline developed to improve the obedience and maneuverability of cavalry horses.
    The French horsewoman has taken the advanced elements of classical dressage -- known as "Haute Ecole" or "High School" -- to create a series of shows that mix both style and substance.
    You could say it's her dream role.
    "I'd always loved horses but had never thought about working with them," Faivre told CNN.
    "I'd never thought about doing horse shows -- I didn't like competition and I didn't want to be a teacher. But I really loved theater and I wanted to be an actress."
    True to her aims, Faivre enrolled at Paris's Florent School of Dramatic Arts before joining the troop of the renowned French stuntman and horse trainer Mario Luraschi.
    A string of stunt double appearances followed, notably in British TV drama "Merlin" and 2006 movie "Paris, je t'aime," before Faivre continued her equine education in 2007.
    Keen to explore classical dressage, she enrolled at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Jerez, Spain learning alongside Spanish Olympian Rafael Soto before performing her first show in 2010 alongside her much-loved stallion Gotan.
    "He is a real partner. He is really clever, an artist and really generous. It would be hard to find another horse like him."
    The 10-year-old chestnut is one of eight stallions Faivre painstakingly trains at her base in Gouvieux, a hour's drive north of Paris.
    "My horses work five times a week with two days rest. I ride them in the morning and in the afternoon we work on tricks which I repeat many times," she said.
    "When I buy a horse I look for an artist. If I find one which is clever, brave and sensitive it will take two years, then you need another year to get it (used to the atmosphere of a show)," she explains.
    Show-stopping talent
    Faivre has three themed show ring performances ("Gala," "Freedom" and "Fantasia") and a fourth where her pony Romeo mingles with an audience. All highlight the grace and intelligence of the horses.
    Tricks include the Spanish Walk where a horse lifts its forelegs up off the ground in a exaggerated manner, to the piaffe -- rhythmic trotting on the spot.
    There are also more dramatic maneuvers including pirouettes -- rather harder to master on four legs than a ballerina's two -- and the levade, a daring and potentially risky trick where a horse rears up and poses on its hindquarters.
    "When I have the horse on two legs this is maybe the most dangerous thing I do, but usually routines are not dangerous. It's not like when I was a stunt woman."
    To date, Faivre has performed in more than 10 countries. U.S. audiences got their first taste of her French flair at the Los Angeles Masters in September.
    "It was an American dream," Faivre said.
    "I never thought I would go over there with my horses. It was truly different, a great opportunity and I think people liked it a lot."
    Matthieu Gheysen, LA Masters event director, described the show as "mind-blowing."
    "It's impressive to see how she communicates with Gotan -- it's beautiful how they make it work. You see that they have built up their relationship over the years," Gheysen said.
    "And it's mind-blowing when you see the crowd -- you can hardly hear anything in the grandstands."
    Her attention to detail extends to every aspect of the performance including her costumes -- a part of her work that she clear adores.
    "I love couture. I always loved the old style -- I'm crazy about the 19th century. I think it was the best time for a woman -- it was really elegant," she says.
    "I think costume is really, really important. When you make a show the music, the lights, the costume, the horse, the choreography is altogether. If something is missing, it's not the same."
    Faivre has since traveled to Africa, performing at the Salon du Cheval d'El Jadida in Morocco and is next scheduled to appear at Madrid Horse Week at the end of November.
    If dressage really is the ballet of the horse world then Faivre may well be its principal dancer.