A Review of Sylvia Zerbini’s Grand Liberté Performance

by Dr. Grant Miller, DVM

March 11, 2014

OK, time to take a break from the serious “burning issue” political posts and reflect on a recent experience. A client of mine invited me to a fundraiser event that took place this past Saturday for a non-profit organization called The White Barn Project in Petaluma, CA. I must say, I was not at all prepared for the amazing performance that I had the privilege of watching: Sylvia Zerbini’s 10 Horse Grand Liberté performance. Many of you may be familiar with this amazing liberty trainer because of her recent tour with Cavalia. Now, she tours independently around the country and made a special trip out to California from her home ranch in Florida to offer a clinic and to perform.
The performance started with the emergence of a sole grey stallion. As I came to learn, many of the horses in the troop are stallions, the rest are geldings. They all shared uniform grey coat, except for one “newbie”—a black Arabian gelding. He added a little bit of “pepper” to the performance—not only through his color contrast but also because he was a feisty little guy! As the performance progressed, more and more horses joined the pack. By the end, Sylvia was conducting a cantering brigade of 10 horses bathed in pastel lighting and orchestrated by uplifting inspirational music! Among the more impressive moves included simultaneous 360 degree turns by all the horses, and a lovely display of affection as each of the horses crossed head over back to make an “equine daisy chain,” as I call it.

Admittedly, before this performance, I kind of thought that liberty work was for people who were too scared to ride. But, after watching the performance and listening to her, I have come to appreciate that this type of work takes a lot of focus, physical activity, and courage. I cringed a few times as horses cantered up to within inches of Sylvia, only to stop in the nick of time! They stood on their hind legs with her standing immediately by, and in many instances she wedged herself between them as they stood in tandem for their signature bow. Dangerous stuff, if you ask me!
At the end of the hour long exhibition, Sylvia took the mic and spoke a bit about how she trains and some of what her philosophy is about liberty work. She clearly showed signs of a physical workout. As she also pointed out, commanding 10 loose horses at once is not only a physical challenge, but also a tremendous mental feat. She had some salient comments regarding “less is more” when it comes to horse training and noted that there are no secrets behind what she is doing—the performance that we just watched doubled as her training session for the horses that day.

Biography of Dr. Miller

Grant Miller is a Veterinary Editor for the Horse Journal and currently practices in Northern California. His areas of interest include acupuncture, chiropractics, performance horse medicine, geriatric horse care, and forensics. He grew up riding in the Pony Club and studied dressage until he attended veterinary school at UC Davis. In 2007 he founded The Sonoma County CHANGE Program to assist his local animal control department with equine humane cases.