Rene Gasser is a seventh-generation horse trainer. His ancestors started as military cavalry and eventually trained horses for entertainment.
In his charming Swiss Australian accent – having been born in Switzerland but reared mostly in Australia – Gasser spoke with passion about the classical art of riding.
“It’s the movement of your body, your posture,” he said during a recent telephone interview. “It’s very refined.” The riders can control their horses through a simple tilt of the head.
Gasser will showcase the abilities of his majestic horses and their riders Saturday during a two-hour choreographed dressage show called “The Gala of the Royal Horses” at Hartman Arena. Before the tour began, this display of pageantry – featuring the Andalusian, Friesian, Lipizzaner and Arabian breeds – was something only seen in the riding schools of Vienna and Spain, Gasser says.
“Some of the movements we do compare to a ballet dance,” he said. “The horses have to be physically fit and mentally happy.”
The production includes 14 horses and a cast of about two dozen, including Gasser as riding master. Two tractor-trailers are filled with costumes and other equipment, including 17 tons of flooring. Maintaining the same setting helps keep the horses comfortable. “They feel at home,” he said. “They feel at ease.”
Gasser does not like to reveal too much in advance of a show, preferring to surprise the audience: “For our performers, the greatest thing is to hear the ‘wow’ in the audience.”
But he does offer a few nuggets.
“For instance with our Spanish horses, we’ve actually got flamenco dancers and flamenco musicians,” he said.
Gasser does most of the horse training himself, and he holds auditions for the riders. He takes into account the personality and ability of both the rider and the horse. “You want the right person on the right horse,” he said.
They train each day, starting with breakfast. “Actually, the horses get fed first,” Gasser said.
One of Gasser’s favorite moments in “The Gala of the Royal Horses” tends to be a real crowd-pleaser as well. His 16-year-old daughter, Katharina, does a piece with her horse Mozart. The two have grown up together. At one point, Mozart lies down, and Katharina lies on top of him.
Gasser said it shows the audience the special connection and love between the two and brings tears to many eyes.
He hopes Wichitans will be both touched and inspired by Katharina, Mozart and the entire production.
“I am probably one of the biggest fans of the classical art of riding,” he said. “I’m hoping some child in the audience will catch on.”
If you go
‘Gala of the Royal Horses’
When: 7:30 p.m Saturday
Where: Hartman Arena, 8151 N. Hartman Arena Drive, Park City
Tickets: $25-$75 at the Hartman Arena box office, www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000