Many guests inquire about the care and training of the horses here at Arabian Nights. The owners of Arabian Nights have owned and raised horses for more than two generations, and take great care and pride in the horses used in our show. As the Chief Operations Officer at Arabian Nights, I would like to share some information about our horses.
I have six years experience performing in the show, two years of which I was the acting Barn Manager. I have also ridden and worked with horses for more than twenty-five years encompassing many breed, show and discipline standards. That being said, the fifty horses that call Arabian Nights home are some of the best cared for that I have seen. One of our highest priorities and core business values is: “To ensure that all horses are well cared for and in training that is mutually beneficial for horse and rider.” We take that value very seriously here at Arabian Nights, as our horses are the heart of our performance. Our veterinarian, as well as those of the University of Florida and the ASPCA, laud Arabian Nights for the care of our horses; we can assure you, they are treated with the utmost respect and love.
At Arabian Nights, we feature a variety of riding disciplines, including reining, dressage, driving, and vaulting. Depending on their role in our show, all horses are exercised or turned out to play each day to keep their routine varied. We have a full-time management team, focused entirely on our herd, on property during daytime hours to feed, water, and turn out the horses, as well as administer any medicines the horses may require. We also have staff who cleans the stalls daily and provide water three times per day. In the afternoons, our grooms and performers come in to prepare for the show, by grooming, bathing and exercising the horses. The horses then have a lunch break, where they receive extra hay to give them energy for their nightly show. After this break, the horses are saddled or tacked up for the show. Most horses perform 5 nights each week, for an average of 10-15 minutes total. A few horses actually only perform for 5 minutes each night, such as the reining horses and high school dressage horses, who are only featured in a 3 minute act and the finale of the show.
In addition to this daily routine, we have a few horses in training at our facility at all times, mostly learning to be core drill horses, who perform at the basic walk, trot and canter in both western and English riding drills. The majority of these horses are Arabians, who were bred at Al-Marah Arabians, in Tucson Arizona. Many of these horses come to us with 30-60 days of basic training. They are paired with a specific member of our core performing staff, who works with the horse to help them adjust to the sound, lights and props (like flags) that we use in our show. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the horse. All of this is done with positive reinforcement and the utmost patience. If any horse doesn’t seem suited to the nature of our show, we either send them back to Al-Marah, or they are purchased by one of our staff members, who provide excellent homes. This is also true of horses we retire from the show.
Other horses, such as reining and high school dressage horses, are either purchased with full training, or a very specific training program is developed for them by one of our trainers. Heidi Herriott is our head trainer and works full time on property. Kim Barteau has been a partner to Arabian Nights for nearly 20 years, and occasionally houses one of our horses for advanced Dressage training. Both work with our horses and riders to ensure effective training that is mutually beneficial for horse and rider. Many horses have special cues to bow, march, rear and lie down. Reining horses are purchased as needed. Two have recently come from Al-Marah after successful show careers, and our newest is still in training to adjust to the special effects used in the show.
One of the most specialized use of our horses is the circus-style acrobatics, much like vaulting, that is featured in our show. For this, we purchase mostly Belgian and Percheron horses with a particular rolling forward movement, steady gait and calm temperament. Our facility has a storied history of training acrobats, and as such, several performers are exceptional at teaching young draft horses to work quietly while stunts are performed on their backs. Horses used for this work take many months to train to move in an unwavering circle at a steady pace, then they are trained further to work with acrobats who stand, flip and jump off of their backs while moving. The horses wear special 3″ think wool pads to cushion their backs, and they wear side checks to make sure they are traveling in a frame to keep their backs supported. These horses work for about 2 minutes at a time during the show and receive turnout and lunging time during the day to keep them conditioned. These horses are largely voice trained to response to certain commands for speed, and a lunge whip “pop” is used to provide another audible cue to move forward. The routine is similar with driving horses and trick riding horses, who take turns working during different days of the week.
The final discipline seen in our show is Liberty, a style of groundwork and riding where the horse is not connected to the rider by any kind of rope or device. This style is based on body language and whip cues. During the groundwork portion of liberty, two kinds of whips are used to direct the horse. The first resembles a dressage whip and is called a pointer; it is used to point the horse in the right direction as an extension of the performer’s arm. The second is a lunge whip, which is used to make a popping sound to call the horse to return to the performer and to ask the horse to change gait. In liberty riding, the horse wears no saddle or bridle and responds to leg cues to speed up or slow down. Training for this discipline can take months to years depending on the horse, and rehearsal of these maneuvers is practiced as needed.
All of our horses are the heart of our show and our business. We love them dearly and their care is paramount. I have personally worked with all of our horses here at Arabian Nights, and I can attest to the close bond our team feels with each horse. Our horses are loved and cared for as if they were our own children.Arden Tilghman Chief Operations Officer Arabian Nights