Horse destined for slaughterhouse now a star with Cavalia show
Its name, Renato, means "born again" in Latin.
An apt name for the horse, considering that just six years ago, it was whiling away its days at a French farm, waiting to be sent to the slaughterhouse.
Fortunately, a fan of Cavalia, a touring equestrian and performing arts troupe, thought the three-year-old male Comtois horse could be a star.
Mr Marc-Olivier Leprohon, 26, Cavalia's artistic and equestrian operations director, recalled: "We heard he was going to a slaughterhouse, but when the team saw Renato he was so beautiful and had a good character.
"We trained him in Belgium for eight months with our grooms and riders. I first met him in Spain, the stop after Belgium. He looked so sweet and goofy, but still had a sloppy coat with holes and cuts so I knew we were saving him from somewhere.
"At that moment I knew I wanted to help him improve and be part of the Cavalia family."
The Cavalia team also discovered Renato was blind in its right eye, but that has never been a problem.
Mr Leprohon said: "All the riders and staff know which eye is blind. And he's physically strong, no muscle or bone problems."
Today, Renato does vaulting, where riders perform dance and gymnastics on horseback.
The Comtois is a breed of draft horse - large, strong equine with a calm temperament originally bred for farm work, so Renato is well-built for the stunts.
Veterinary technician Sascha Nott also has a soft spot for the chestnut stallion: "I'm a fan of draft horses. If not for draft horses, a lot of human civilisation wouldn't have developed."
Ms Katherine Cox, 27, a stunt rider who also maintains Cavalia's leather equipment and helps with the performers' hair and make-up, is one of the few riders in the world who does bareback riding.
She said: "I worked with a family in Florida doing trick riding (stunts on a running horse, hanging from the side or picking up objects from the ground). They thought I was a good candidate for bareback (riding) because I was agile."
Stunt riding combines the challenges of gymnastics and riding - apart from the horse and rider's skill, the bond between them is essential.
Though there haven't been recent injuries, Mr Leprohon said: "I'm knocking on wood we don't have injuries. Our riders are strong, we don't look for specific skills, we look for multitasking and good balance on a horse."
The 50 horses for the show are also kept in top shape. They arrived in Singapore by plane from Brussels last Wednesday, with Mr Leprohon, three grooms and a veterinarian checking on them regularly during the flight.
The horses are more comfortable travelling by air than road because planes are in continuous motion.
"The stars get VIP treatment," Mr Leprohon said.
Cavalia the show
Founder Normand Latourelle, one of the co-founders of famed Cirque du Soleil, was inspired by the Spanish and French words for horse (caballo and cheval) and the English word "cavalry".
Thus the title of the show: Cavalia.
Beginning in Canada 11 years ago, the show will run from Aug 12 to Sept 14, from Tuesdays to Sundays at Bayfront Avenue, beside Marina Bay Sands.
It will feature 50 horses and 46 acrobats in a dizzying combination of acrobatics, dance, aerial stunts and live music, exploring and celebrating man's relationship with the horse.
Cavalia's main tent can hold more than 2,000 people.
Tickets are $58 to $288, excluding booking fees.