January 17, 2011
Trick-riding sisters tell about their experiences with the horse extravaganza Cavalia.
By Elizabeth McCall in America’s Horse
In 2005, with college degrees under their belts, sisters Renny Spencer and Landon Pearson left behind life as they knew it to do something totally out of the ordinary – they joined the cast of Cavalia, a show that features equestrians, aerialists, acrobats, dancers and musicians all displaying their talents around and aboard horses.
While they had grown up riding horses and were members of the Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls, an all-girl California drill team that specializes in trick riding and roping, they didn’t see any use for those talents in the real world.
“I was four months away from graduating with a degree in biology when Kansas (Carradine) called me out of the blue and said Cavalia was looking for new trick riders,” says Renny.
Kansas, the daughter of actor David Carradine, was already in Cavalia. Kansas knew Renny and Landon, who grew up in California, from the time all three women had spent together in the Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls.
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“They flew me to Arizona for an audition,” recalls Renny, who at that time hadn’t done any trick riding in seven years. “I was really out of shape. I thought I’d never be able to trick ride again. But Kansas didn’t have to do any convincing to get me to audition. After the audition, I went back to school, and then they called me about four months later to join the show.”
Landon Pearson was recently divorced and had just quit her job managing a private school in Seattle, when she got word of the openings for trick riders at Cavalia. So she auditioned for the show and joined the cast, three months after her sister.
“It’s really fun,” Renny says of performing with her sister. “We’re so much alike. We always know what each other’s thinking. We just laugh constantly at work.”
The women ride America Quarter Horse stallions Te N Bar, aka “T-Bar,” and CS Peppy Mix, aka “Chum.”
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Chum is “such a sweetheart of a horse,” Renny says. “I’m in love with him. He runs straight, and he’s really quiet in the station (the wings off stage). I had my eye on him for a long time.”
Like Renny, Chum was fairly new to the show. He joined Cavalia when the show was in Houston in January 2006. He arrived on a Boeing 747 from Quebec with some of the horses that had been on break. Renny started riding Chum in April 2006, after the show reached Laval, a suburb of Montreal, Quebec.
While their trick-riding talents landed them the jobs, it’s their lasso work that gets the attention.
“For me, it’s more difficult than trick riding,” Renny says. “If you’re not focusing for two seconds, you’ll mess up.”
Landon says she loves the lasso duet, yet it can also be lonely.
“You’re on stage alone with a spotlight with almost no music, and it’s dark, and it’s just you and your sister,” she says. “But when you mess up in lasso, it’s just horrendous. It’s so lonely. You feel like you’re the only person in the universe. With trick riding, you just fly by. It’s fast. It’s fun. If you make a little mistake, the audience doesn’t know exactly what you were supposed to do. You get on and off stage quickly. With lasso, you’re out there, and they know you mess up if your rope is no longer moving. It’s like dropping a ball when you juggle.”
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Landon says the lasso routine lets her and her sister expand their audience’s impression of the lasso.
“There’s a built-in idea of the cowboy and the lasso, and we are basically trying to take that out a little bit and make it more universal. What’s beautiful about the movement of the lasso and the girls with the lasso is that it doesn’t really scream ‘cowboy,’ ” she says. “So with the music and lighting and the fog and the outfits, we don’t do the cowboyish tricks. We do these slow, flowy tricks that set the mood of that scene, and I don’t think it’s ever been done.”
The sisters like being by each other’s sides, especially touring with a Quebec-based company, which has language and cultural differences.
“With that much unfamiliarity, it’s great to have my sister – that little rock of familiarity and comfort and love when everything else is crazy,” Landon says.
“I lived a pretty conventional lifestyle,” she continues. “I’ve had to ask myself, ‘Was that what I always wanted, or was that just what I happened to be doing?’ This is a way to explore what I really want. I don’t know how I would go back to a 9-to-5 job anymore.”
Renny seconds her sister’s thoughts.
“Just to work every day with all these amazingly talented acrobats and riders … I think I’ve really taken to the tour lifestyle,” she says. “It’s kind of liberating. They say once you have been on tour long enough, you sort of lose your other life. I think that’s starting to happen for me.”