While no one wants to think about December just yet, the announcement that Gilles Fortier will be performing the world premier of the equestrian spectacle “Phoenix” at Liverpool International Horse Show (28 – 31 December) might just get you in the mood.

Gilles Fortier is the creator and artistic director behind the equestrian acrobatic performance company Zarkam which he founded in 1996. The company has been bringing thrilling equestrian performances around Europe for over 20 years. The performances incorporate ancient horsemanship techniques through dance and theatre combined with special effects.

H&H spoke to Gilles Fortier’s son Thomas about the family business and how it feels to be debuting Phoenix at Liverpool International Horse Show.

“My father started riding at the age of six. He began with a classical career (jumping, cross, dressage) then he turned to the medieval show stunt work, he became a blacksmith farrier then he began his career as a self-taught equestrian artist in 1996.

“I have always followed my father, since very young, in all the shows. I really took a place in the company, as a dancer and acrobat artist and director essentially in 2008 with the creation of several shows for summer seasons in the south of France.”

All of the horses used in Gilles Fortier’s displays are either Portuguese or Spanish and live normal lives when they are not performing.

“These breeds are favourable to the performances because of their mentality, memory capacity and magnificent presence. The horses are either ridden or we take them for a walk in the forest and they are turned out in paddocks.”

The Gilles Fortier training method is based on classical riding and the horses are slowly introduced to effects used in the performances.

“Our training techniques are simple, classic training is the basis. Then, little by little, we use our personal techniques like belt reins work, to free our hands and to be able to use stage fire accessories for example. Finally, we present the special effects that we use (fire, powder, smoke) without any constraint. We give them the necessary time to understand these different elements.”

The Zarkam business places family at the forefront, which includes welcoming other artistic riders into the fold.

“We perform as a family with other artist riders. My two sisters, Virginie and Megan, are riders, and my mother, Sylvie is in charge of logistics and administration. Other artists such as Sylvain Albella or Marine Laurent are also part of the family. It’s important for us to have that team spirit there.”

The down-to-earth family have a fantastic working relationship even when there are bumps along the road.

“Even if work predominates, the good atmosphere remains the key element. We all get along very well, even if sometimes there are some storms! It’s normal. Everyone injects their own experience and their own ideas and we amalgamate the whole.”

Spectators attending Liverpool International Horse Show can expect a thrilling show.

“Phoenix will be a 15 minute performance combining equestrian art, fire, music, lights and special effects for the sole intention of awakening the emotions of the spectators. It will be a series of different scenes with an epic and lively rhythm.

“We are really happy to perform on the wonderful stage of the Liverpool International Horse Show. We will invest 100% to present a great show full of emotions. It’s a stage that will allow us to create beautiful magical moments.”

Thomas enjoys every moment he spends with horses.

“What motivates me is to highlight all the sides and knowledge that horses can have. They are magnificent creatures that are full of beauty and emotions. But galloping in the wild, I must say that it is very enjoyable and provides a real sense of freedom!”

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