Being ‘horse whisperer’ pays off

Manon Laviolette worked with the horses who starred in Cavalia

(From front) Amanda St. Onge with her Mustang quarter horse Ruby

(From front) Amanda St. Onge with her Mustang quarter horse Ruby

For Manon Laviolette, it was a dream job.

Six days a week shovelling hay, cleaning stalls, feeding and grooming 49 horses.

“I smelled like a horse the whole time,” says Laviolette, seemingly proud of the odour she acquired while working with Cavalia, an equine extravaganza that wrapped up performances in Vancouver last month.

Featuring acrobatics, dance, aerial artistry, live music and dozens of magnificent steeds, Cavalia is a tribute to horses and a celebration of the relationship that humans and horses have shared together.

For Laviolette, who runs a horse riding camp in east Maple Ridge, it was everything she could wish for.

She snagged the job because she happened to be in the right place at the right time.

In March while attending an annual horse bazaar in Langley, Laviolette saddled up to the Cavalia booth and began chatting with a man behind the desk.

By the end of the conversation, he encouraged her to apply for a job at the show, which boast a mostly French-speaking cast.

Two days later, Laviolette was at Cavalia’s temporary stables in False Creek caring for Percherons, Mustangs, a Comtois and Pure Spanish Breeds.

“I didn’t even ask my husband if I could take the job,” she says.

“I packed my bags on Monday morning before the interview.”

To understand what the job meant to Laviolette, you need to delve into her history.

She got married on a horse. Her beloved horse Kamana, a Mustang Percheron, was her wedding present.

She and her husband Larry St. Onge would spend summers near Pemberton with the wild horses, she completed a 25-mile ride when she was six months pregnant and only stopped riding two weeks before her daughter Amanda was born.

If she could, Laviolette would be with horses all day.

“I’m a compulsive horse nut,” she says with a laugh.

On the first day at the Cavalia stables, Laviolette noticed many of the horses had their ears “pinned”, a signal that told her they were not happy.

“I just massaged their foreheads and got them to calm down,” says Laviolette, who greeted every horse with a kiss when she started her day.

By the time, the Cavalia caravan packed up and left, Laviolette’s work mates referred to her as “the horse whisperer.”

She says she has an affinity for horses, enjoys their company, their grace and unconditional love.

“They are calm and understand you,” says Laviolette. “When I feel sad or angry, I go see them and they calm me down. They just listen, never talk back.”

• Manon Laviolette hosts an open house on Sunday, June 12 at Amanda’s Horse Camp, 10288-264th Street in Maple Ridge. There will be trail rides for $5 and everyone who attends will receive a gift certificate valid for six months for rides or lessons. Info: 778-999-6952 or visit