Trick rider Kansas Carradine continues her quest for trust and understanding between horse and rider…
This story first appeared in The Age, July 6, 2013
Kansas Carradine in Cavalia which opens in Melbourne on July 24
”A trick-riding horse has to be straight as an arrow and strong as an ox,” says Kansas Carradine, who knows a thing or two about horses. ”They need fire and heart. They need to be the kind of horse that can be brave and fast, and then fall asleep as soon as they’re off stage.”
Not your average thoroughbred then? Carradine, one of the stars of the horse-based circus show Cavalia, laughs. ”Not usually. We tend more towards the quarter horses, but the horses come in all shapes and sizes and breeds – it’s the temperament more than anything else.”
Just as the quarter horses have a genetic suitability for a show such as Cavalia, Carradine herself comes with impeccable genes for a life in the spotlight involving an element of derring-do.
Her father, after all, was actor David Carradine, the star of the 1970s television series Kung Fu, and her grandfather, John Carradine, was a prolific character actor in Hollywood. David Carradine’s somewhat chaotic home life – he was married five times – meant his daughter moved around between family members, but the one constant in her life was horses.
”Even when I was as young as two, there were a couple of high-school girls up the road who used to look after our horses, and they would literally tie me on to a horse with a jacket and take me riding on the beach,” she says. ”When I was five, I apparently used to stop riders on the beach and ‘command’ them to put me on a horse. I would do anything to get a ride.”
As it turns out, it was an ideal background for Carradine’s future career which began at 11 when she went to a horse camp where they also taught trick riding.
”Initially I resisted, but when I got there I loved it so much I basically didn’t go home for seven years. Tom and Vicky Maier, who own Riata Ranch, became my second parents, and within six months I went from doing my first trick riding lesson to appearing in my first show.”
She performed for the next seven years, before taking some time off due to burnout.
”I really questioned what I was supposed to be doing with my life,” she says. ”I was tired of dressing up in red, white and blue and performing at rodeos. It was an adolescent team, and I was maturing as a performance artist.”
Carradine remembers sitting in her bedroom and asking for help. ”I was saying to the universe ‘just give me a sign, I just want a sign’,” she says. ”At that very moment the phone rang and it was somebody telling me that there was this new show – a circus show with horses that had been created by the Cirque du Soleil team.”
Carradine almost chose to ignore the call. ”I told them I didn’t feel prepared, or in shape enough to audition. I hadn’t even been on a horse in a year, and I was afraid I wouldn’t make the cut. Then I put the phone down and just sat there for a few minutes – and it was like a flash in my brain. Of course it was the sign.”
In very quick succession she auditioned, was accepted into the troupe and fell in love with and married Alain Gauthier, the show’s choreographer and resident director.
Carradine performed for a year and then took a training position buying and starting trick riding horses. Two are still on tour with Cavalia and five are touring North America with Cavalia’s other show, Odysseo. She also took leave when she had daughters Phoenix Rose, 7, and Bodhi, 4.
If there was anybody who would understand her love of horses and performing it was Gauthier, an original cast member of Cirque du Soleil. They travel the world constantly. ”We’re part of the Cavalia family; that’s how we live,” she says.
It’s a large family – 50 horses, the acrobats, the riders and a huge daily crew. ”We’re dedicated to the horses’ well-being,” Carradine says. ”When we’re on tour they get a huge amount of attention – not just the performance. We work them at liberty, we ride them every day, we train with them – their health is paramount to us.” The show has been running for almost 10 years, and Carradine has been with it on and off since 2004. She works as a back-up performer, so on any given night she might be Roman riding, trick riding or lassoing.
Carradine was pregnant with Bodhi when she heard about her father’s death in Bangkok in 2009.
”I closed my computer for a couple of weeks, turned off the phone, and sang and prayed and communed with the spirit of my father in a deeply personal way. I chose to shield myself from anything that wasn’t positive and I forced my mind to focus on the gifts I had received from my father.”
Her ability to focus has helped her to continue to grow as a horse person, and her relationship with the animals is not just about riding. ”I was lucky enough to discover Ariana Strozzi at Skyhorse Ranch in California – the creator of equine-guided education – and I very quickly realised that this was the missing piece of the jigsaw for me.”
Now a qualified instructor, Carradine has seen it work wonders for humans. ”Watching people who know nothing about horses interact with them in a non-forceful way is very powerful,” she says.
■ Cavalia opens in Melbourne on July 24 at Docklands.