Internationally renowned equine photographer Gabriele Boiselle introduces us to two exceptional equestrian artists and visionaries who have performed before more than two million worldwide.
Cavalia, the show that Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado co-founded (they have a new project called EQI, (www.equi-show.com), was an unbelievable success in North America and Europe, and the long-maned stallion Templado became a superstar because of it.
Frédéric had first noticed him as a dominant little Lusitano foal in the Delgado Stud when he was still with his dam and realized that here was a rather special personality. When he matured, he became Frédéric’s teacher and his soul mate. He was a gift from the gods and he shone on their lives like a bright star.
Then there were the other horses, all relatives of Templado. In the unusual breeding operation that Magali’s parents had built up, the horses were treated with the same respect and love as humans, and this produced an atmosphere of trust and understanding among the horses for their owners.
When Frédéric and Templado played their “games” in front of huge audiences, grown men were seen to weep at the beauty and emotional quality of the performance. There was a show number involving three stallions including Templado that stirred the soul of everyone who witnessed it.
Likewise, there were Magali’s incredible dressage numbers in which she performed all the most advanced movements, sometimes with nothing but a loose rope around Dao’s neck —and no saddle and stirrups.
I’m sure that everyone who owned a horse and saw these joyous performances longed to have that much of a close and equal relationship with their own horse. I say “equal,” because Frédéric and Magali appear to be equal partners with their horses, not dominant humans imposing their will on a horse, however willing the animal.
While in the USA, I saw their performances in Seattle, Boston, and Los Angeles, and we often had long discussions. My early hunches were fully confirmed: there was nobody like them that I had ever seen — before or since.
Of course, they were pursued by the rich and famous and often had to make difficult decisions about their future and what would be good for them and their horses.
Finally, Cavalia came to Europe and I was present at their last performance in Lisbon. Their contract at an end, they returned home to Magali’s parents and the Delgado Stud with gratitude and relief.
The years in the States and touring Europe had been a rewarding experience, but wearing. For many reasons, they needed to get back: to breathe Provençal air, to wander among the stud’s horses and foals in the fields, to watch the new arrivals—in short, to renew their soul.
Frédéric and Magali had started their lives together living in a hut, unheated in winter, next to their horses. Their love for each other and for their horses had seen them through difficult early days.
Now they had resisted all sorts of glittering offers and returned to their modest house and their roots. When I first visited them back in their home, it seemed as if nothing had changed, but we all knew how much labor and love those intervening years had required.
Also, there was the fact of Templado’s death: When I presented Frédéric with a large photograph of himself and Templado, printed on canvas, he turned away to hide his tears. Even though Templado’s bloodline lives on in his offspring, I think not a day passes without Frédéric talking to him.
In a very similar way Magali was affected by the life, and then the loss, of Dao, her exceptional Lusitano stallion with whom she had achieved so much, and won worldwide acclaim and many top dressage prizes.
They too had a relationship that was so close that Dao would surely have gone through fire for her. Magali and Dao won first prize at Equitana, beating the top dressage riders in the world, and naturally performing with saddle, bridle, and top hat, as required of all competitors.
Most horses and competitors were no doubt exhausted by the demands of this competition but not Dao: That very evening Magali was performing on Dao in another part of Essen at the Hot Top Show.
There, she repeated all the dressage competition movements but without saddle, bridle, or top hat. Many of her competitors and the judges came to watch and were amazed, giving her a standing ovation. One judge advised her to take great care of such a valuable horse as Dao and make sure his legs were bandaged after each training session. Magali still laughs at the memory.
“Do you know what I do when I get home with Dao?” she asked me. “I take down the ramp when I reach the stable and set him free. He gallops off across the fields with all their ditches and rabbit warrens. He leaps about and rears up with joy. If I didn’t let him free to do what he wanted, he wouldn’t perform for me the way he does in competition.”
When Dao was old he shared the lives of Magali, Frédéric, and their son Noah until his last day. He walked along next to Magali with her pet crow on her shoulder, and by Noah’s baby carriage, peering in every now and then. Dao appeared to be keeping an eye on them all. He was free without any halter as they wandered across the meadow. He was free until his last hour; then he was free to go.
The excerpt from Building a Life Together: You and Your Horse was reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).
All photos by Gabriele Boiselle