(TNS) — World-renowned trainer and rider René Gasser ended a three-show stop of his Gala of the Royal Horses in Missoula on Oct. 7, bringing along with him a team of rare breeds to show off their skills.
Gasser is a seventh generation horseman, and he and his family have toured and performed throughout Australia, Asia and every country in Europe. His daughter Katharina said around four years ago they moved to the United States, and since then have performed in more than 250 cities across the country.
“I didn’t really know what to expect from Montana because we’ve never been here before. I didn’t expect it to be this pretty or for the people to turn out the way they have during our shows,” she said.
Midway through the performance, Gasser walked out into the center of the ring at the rodeo arena at the Missoula County Fairgrounds, followed by three of his group’s riders sitting atop a Friesian, a Lipizzaner and an Andalusian. Whip in hand, Gasser walked the crowd through how he goes about training each of the horses.
“When we talk to our horses, the first few times are by touch,” he said, introducing the first move he wanted to exhibit, the Spanish walk.
Many of the movements that make up dressage have their roots in military history, Gasser explained. As the Lipizzaner, ridden by Steve McIntyre of Australia, walked next to him, Gasser tapped its front leg with the whip on every other step, and the horse responded by kicking its hoof directly out in front before bringing it back down again.
“In this way, it looks just like the marching of a soldier,” Gasser said, leading the horse to the other side of the enclosure to repeat the move.
“When he does it, let him know he’s done well,” the master trainer concluded, reaching up and rubbing the horse on the forehead.
He next turned his attention to a Friesian, a breed whose history dates back to its use as warhorses in the Crusades but who Gasser’s wife Barbara described as the “Most gentle of equine giants.”
Gasser batted its back legs with the training whip.
On command, the horse began to “piaffe,” prancing in place quickly enough that for brief moments all four hooves left the ground, as Gasser’s daughter Katharina stayed perched in the saddle.
“A rider is an artist and the horse is his medium,” Barbara said of her husband’s work.
Katharina, mounted on an Arabian horse, later returned to the ring for a performance of her own, a demonstration of “garrocha.” Like the movements her father showed off earlier, the graceful exhibition also has its roots in something more conventional. Holding the same 12-foot pole that hundreds of years ago would have been used to herd bulls, Katharina put on a performance that was much closer to ballet.
Leading her horse in tight circles with one end of the pole pushed into the earth at its center, she then switched to riding wide rings around the edge of the enclosure, letting the shaft dig into the dirt and flip over before catching it again as the crowd cheered and clapped.
The Gassers said they especially want to thank the Big Sky Horse Park, which housed their stallions over the weekend while the family was in town for the performances.