DOSWELL—If you’d like a taste of entertainment from the Roman Empire, you’ll find it at the Equine Extravaganza where men stand on the back of galloping horses and women stand on their shoulders
Cavallo Equestrian Arts presents a high-energy acrobatic equestrian stunt show, titled the Ma’Ceo Gypsy Festival Equestrian Show. Ma’Ceo means “gift of God.” Show times are 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday at the Meadow Event Park. There were two shows on Friday too. The 90-minute show celebrates a tradition that traces back to the Roman Empire. The owner and director of the show, Olissio Zoppe Zamperla, is an Italian who started performing when he was 3. He comes from a long line of Italian acrobatic equestrian performers, he said after a private show on Thursday evening.
Olissio stood confidently on the back of two Paso Finos as they galloped together around the ring—a feat known as “Roman riding.”
The show is under a big-top tent near the mansion and does require an additional admission fee, but it is an amazing show with beautiful rare horse breeds and dare-devil stunts and choreographed with music, lights and exotic costumes. It is an inspirational show that demonstrates how talented performers and well-trained horses can pull off stunning feats together.
On Thursday, spectators were treated to rope tricks and a whip handler who smacked spaghetti noodles from a lady performer’s mouth.
The women performers climbed a curtain-like cloth that hung from the 30-foot ceiling. They filled the tent with suspense as they courageously climbed to a chandelier and suspended themselves upside down with only their feet hooked to the chandelier—all without a safety net. They didn’t wear safety harnesses either and all that was below them was sawdust. They performed an aerial ballet to music while above the crowd.
If you go to the show, you’ll see Caleb Carinci, who is half Italian, stand on a the back of a galloping horse and juggle three black balls and then three clubs.
Caleb and Olissio made it look easy as they ran and leaped on the horsebacks. After finishing a stunt with a horse, they simply leaped off the horses.
After the show, Caleb said in an interview that he spent two years learning how to stand on a galloping horse before he did his first show. During that time, he also learned to juggle. Then he learned to do a backward hand spring off of a horse.
The ever-modest Caleb said a lot of people could learn to do what he does if they practiced long enough and hard enough. “It takes practice and courage,” he said, adding that he fell eight times during Thursday night’s “dress rehearsal.” But he never fell to the ground in a way that was obvious. He simply covered his mistakes so that they blended in with his stunts.
Some in the audience cried when Olissio brought out a beautiful black stallion, a Friesian from Holland. This powerfully muscled horse tis agile with elegant action and has a thick mane and tail. It’s widely held that his ancestors were prized as war horses during the Middle Ages and later were used to carry knights in armor. On Thursday evening, the horse galloped majestically with great a presence and carried himself with elegance into the ring and then stood on his hind legs for a moment at Olissio’s command.
Altogether, the show features 13 horses. Another rare horse in the show was the Lusitano, a Portuguese breed, and the name comes from a Roman word for Portugal.
Ten performers present spectators with an “expression of art,” said 35-year-old Olissio. “I come from eight to nine generations of equestrian acrobats. I’m 100 percent Italian and this type of performance originated in Italy. It was derived from the circus and the coliseum in Rome.
Carey Hackett, a dark-haired beauty with big brown eyes, climbed to the chandelier and did ballet. In her career, she started out in dance. Then she moved into equestrian performances, which she has done for nearly eight years, she said in an interview. She climbed onto Olissio’s shoulders as he stood on two galloping horses.
She doesn’t lift free weights to stay in shape for the performances. “I train by lifting my own body weight,” she explained.
They stay on the road about nine months a year. Olissio’s show has traveled to state fairs across America—from Florida to Alaska.
Horseback acrobatics “are very dangerous, but Olissio’s family has a rich tradition in this,” Hackett said.
The three-day Extravaganza also features more than 100 clinics and demonstrations by top horse industry experts from across the country. Key presenters will include Julie Goodnight, host of Horse Master on RFD-TV; Ken McNabb, host of RFD-TV’s Discovering the Horseman Within; Dr. Robert Miller, equine behaviorist and veterinarian who created imprint training for foals; and classical stock seat trainer Ron McLoughlin.
Presentations and demonstrations will feature natural horsemanship, dressage, reining, jumping, trail riding, gaited riding, cowboy mounted shooting, barrel racing, therapeutic riding, holistic health and more. Other highlights will include a mounted police horse obstacle course; a breed and stallion pavilion; a trail challenge; a Virginia’s Finest Pavilion showcasing gourmet foods and wines and local craft beers; narrated tours of the historic property; surrey rides; and a Kids’ Corral with children’s activities.
In addition, the event’s exhibit hall will feature vendors from all over the country offering a wide array of products and services in time for holiday shopping.
As befitting The Meadow’s status as birthplace of Thoroughbred racing legend Secretariat, there will be an exclusive Secretariat-themed event, as well as official Secretariat merchandise for sale, along with book signings.