As I mentioned previously, the equestrian director of Odysseo Cavalia, Benjamin Aillaud, took two hours of his time to sit down and answer the questions that my parents and I had.
From the brochure, I knew that Benjamin has been in the equestrian world since his childhood in Toulouse, France. His objective is to train versatile horses that will enjoy and maintain their interest in performing and his career is impressive. He is a twice vice-champion of the world and four-time champion of France in four-horse carriage driving. Since 2009, he been equestrian director for Cavalia’s two productions.
At the beginning of our interview, I asked him to go into detail about how he was able to save up enough money to purchase his first horse and what his motives were to do so. He told me his parents had bought a farm in the country and there was no water from the city and no electricity even. Benjamin explained that his dad was into performing theater and “built an association to do shows in some city that didn’t have any money to be able to bring shows into the city.” His dad “taught his kids how to juggle, do acrobatics, dance, mime, and other kinds of work in the show.” They were performing in the street, the village, outside or inside. Benjamin was four years old when he started performing and was earning 100 francs per show. At five years old he was juggling five bowls and doing acrobatic things as well so at the age of six he was able to use his own money from performing to buy a horse. He bought a half Arabian crossed with a Perianese breed.
Of course when the word “Arabian” came into the conversation, my mom leaned off of the edge of her chair to talk more about this breed that she loves. She told Benjamin that she and my dad have been around Arabians for 30 years and that her first horse was an Arabian stallion. Benjamin then told us that the first kind of horse that his three and half year old son, Nuno, will touch will be Arabians because they bring you “faster understanding and they are gentle.”Benjamin then explained his life before Cavalia. He said, “By the time I bought my first horse, I played with him for two years and was able to ride to school and was able to go anywhere.”
He rode everywhere bareback and, once he had the money to buy a saddle, he bought a Mexican style saddle and then an English saddle. He mentioned how he would go to a friend’s, watch TV and capture an idea.
He said, “I would see somebody jump a fence, I will jump a fence. I see somebody pull a piece of wood, I will make a harness with string and make a horse pull a piece.”
At eight, he told his parents he wanted to learn how to ride properly. The show they were working in at that time included horses. They brought in riders, singers, acrobats, and other disciplines to tell a story and, in one of the stories, they worked with a guy who had horses for movies.
Benjamin said, “He was a Spanish guy living in France who had a special way to work with the horses.”
Benjamin spent his time after school working for him at his place, where the work involved working with carriage horses, jumpers, and dressage horses that didn’t want to do what they were asked and that came from all over the world.
He said, “We were finding ways to rebuild the relation in a way that you are going to be able to suggest things to the horses that are going to interest them, by building a new way of thinking, a new way of looking at the exercise.”
At 12, Benjamin decided to leave school and focus on sports, so he became a part of the French volleyball team until he was 15, when he was considered to be too small for volleyball. He then returned to high school and worked horses in all different styles of riding. Then, around the age of 18 and 19, Benjamin was being asked to work with people’s horses just to help with a particular problem and now he’s the director of Odysseo Cavalia.
At the end of our interview, I asked him what advice he had for someone interested in trying out for Odysseo Cavalia, and he asked what riding I have been doing and the training we are currently working on. I got nervous because I was put on the spot and was surprised to hear that he was interested in what kind of riding I do, but I could tell by the way he listened that he truly cared.
Before we left, we asked to get a quick picture with him. Then as he walked my parents and I to the door, he asked f I had his email and encouraged me to keep in touch with him. Then we hugged him goodbye and thanked him over and over for his time.
I could honestly go on at length and go into detail about the interview I had with this man, but I want to stress how amazing this experience was for me. I found myself not even blinking as he was going so in-depth about his life, his experiences, and his knowledge. I even caught my mom looking at me as I was listening to him in complete awe. (I’m getting goose bumps again as I talk about this experience and even about what has happened since this interview!) This man could not have been nicer, more passionate, calmer, or more intelligent about the life that he has lived and the experiences he has had along the way. Our conversation made me appreciate the bond that I have with Dane even more and now every time I drive to the barn, I take a few minutes in my car to think, “What am I going to work on today? What is a new thing that I can challenge not only Dane with, but myself as well?”
Benjamin gave me a new outlook on riding. It isn’t about competing or taking home the blue ribbon and trophy. It’s about the relationship you’re building with your horse and the obstacles you encounter along the way. These obstacles are what make you a better rider and what makes your relationship and bond with your horse that much stronger. Just through this interview, he taught me how important it is to eliminate all outside factors when you are with your horse. You need to get on their level so you can understand one another and because of these things, I can see my dream coming true. Riding and performing is my passion. It may sound cheesy, but since I have continued to talk and stay in touch with Benjamin about riding and how to continue building a relationship with my horse, I’m starting to find myself smiling and laughing as I am riding Dane. As many of you can probably relate, when you are riding, you are continuously having a conversation with your horse. And to me, it’s just incredible to know and feel when my horse’s focus is 100% on me and vise versa.
(As Benjamin says, “La gentillesse est la noblesse de l’intelligence.” – “Kindness is the nobility of intelligence.”)
A week after I left Miami, I assumed that it was my goodbye to Cavalia and Benjamin, but I soon got an email that has resulted in my life doing a complete 180. More in the next blog!