The Language of the Horse

Professional equestrian performer Sylvia Zerbini enchants with her multifaceted equine shows.

Sylvia Zerbini is multilingual. She speaks English, French and horse.

Growing up on her family’s farm just south of Paris, France, Zerbini spent hours observing their horses in their pastures. She learned how they communicated via their body language. How the slightest movement, a shift in weight, a flick of an ear or eye contact, rippled through the herd. Soon Zerbini was using energy, voice, emotion and eye contact to speak horse.

“As a child, I would travel with my parents when they were on tour in the summer,” says Zerbini, a ninth-generation animal trainer and performer. “Then I would come back to stay with my grandparents in France to go to school in the fall. I have been performing all my life.”

Zerbini put her unique communication skills to good use. She became an equestrian performer with Ringling Bros. Circus and then with Canada-based Cavalia. Today, Zerbini operates from her own Williston-based Grande Liberte Farm. From January through April, she stages weekend performances at her farm while traveling to other venues the rest of the year.

“My horses are trained through what I call their silent language,” says Zerbini. “We use no physical aids such as bridles or whips. All the training is about communicating with horses as they communicate with each other. It is very natural, and the horses respond to it.”

Grande Liberte Farm is home to a new covered performance arena that seats 250. Zerbini describes it as “an equine theater with lights and music.” The 90-minute show features 20-plus horses, including Arabians, Andalusians, Warmbloods and Quarter horses. Zerbini notes that “many of my horses are rescues or adoptees whose strong personalities were too much for their previous owners.” And once they find a home with Zerbini, it is their forever home.

“We open the show with a herd of horses at liberty communicating with each other,” says Zerbini. “Then I enter the herd and slowly move them into an equine ballet to music. We also add elements of aerialists, dancers and vaulting. We think our shows have something for everyone, even if they are not necessarily horse people.”

Zerbini never forgets that it is the horses who are at the center of the show.

“There is a very strong emotional connection in the human and horse relationship,” says Zerbini. “My horses are not just performing for me; they are having as much fun as I am. And I think when people experience this, they come away feeling happy.”

Learn more › Grande Liberte Farm › 18552 NE 81st Street, Williston › › (941) 256-1063 › January-April: shows every Saturday & Sunday (3:30pm-5pm) › General admission, $25 › VIP seating (wine, hors d’oeuvres & meet Sylvia): $40 › Children (4-12): $15



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