Last week at the Longines Masters of Los Angeles, Spanish horseman Santi Serra brought his rare brand of equestrian artistry to American audiences at the Long Beach Convention Center. Serra uses “natural dressage” or liberty training in his Sercam Shows, which last week featured his Arabian horses Kyfruc Nika and Aran, and two border collies. His program aims to showcase the beauty and movement of horses in the wild, demonstrating their obedience without the use of force.
The 28-year-old Serra has previously performed at the Longines Hong Kong Masters, and has appeared at the Gucci Paris Masters; the Grand Prix Classic in Fontainebleau, France; and Fieracavalli in Verona, Italy. We caught up with Serra to talk about dogs, making friends with horses, and the mysterious dream that helped to launch his career.
How did you get started in horses?
Serra: My family came from the horse world. They bred Arabian horses. Thanks to my family and my brother, I got to live in that world [but] I wanted something different. I didn’t want to compete or to just breed horses. I was looking for friendship with horses—a different link—and through that I arrived at the world of spectacles with horses.
Can you talk about the dream that inspired you to become a performer?
Serra: Every person dreams. I had a dream one day that all my horses were like dogs. They would sit, they would lie down, they loved liberty training and they responded to their names. Because of this dream, one day at a competition I had that in my mind, and I started to study the horses and to become their friend. The truth is, I spent two years studying them. My parents, my brothers, they brought in wild horses so that I could study them. And through that, when we ran those horses at home and through their training in the arena, that’s where the ideas appeared for the choreography of the show.
How would you describe your training program?
Serra: My instructor was Kyfruc, the first horse I had in my life. I learned a lot through him. The horses have served as my instructors, and I’ve learned that the most important trick is establishing that I’m the leader of the herd. I act like the leader and when they’re with me, they can feel happy, be playful and confident. Through that, I can work with them. The trick is to work as their leader and to study the horses when they’re acting naturally.
How long does it take to train a horse to perform in your Sercam Show?
Serra: Usually, to have a horse ready for a show, it takes from three months to six months of working with that horse. There are some horses who need a little more [time and] some horses who need a little less, because each horse is a different book and they learn differently.
Why do you prefer Arabians as performers?
Serra: Arabian horses are the horses that are in my heart because those are the horses of my life. Those are the horses that were bred by my mother, by my father and my brother. It’s the horse that we’ve always had in the family. I’ve lived with them my entire life. Since I was a child we’ve only had Arabian horses at home.
And the border collies in your shows?
Serra: The first border collie that I had was a gift from my brother. The truth is that before him, we had a lot of dogs. My mother had given me a beautiful dog before, a boxer, but the connection I had with that [first] border collie was special. Through that dog, we bred another dog that I connected with. We have worked with many breeds; border collies, giant poodles, Australian sheep dogs—we’re experimenting with wolves. Our horses have worked with a lot of breeds, but it’s the first two dogs that we tried, the border collies, that got me started.
Tell us about your farm back in Spain.
Serra: We have 36 horses at home; we have mares, foals, we breed a little of everything. We have 17 horses that are in training and 12 dogs in training. We have incorporated hawks, eagles, and we’re working on introducing wolves into our performances next year. We have a greater variety in our shows than the usual horses and dogs.
You seem to have a special connection with animals. Has it always been that way?
Serra: The truth is, I don’t know because I work each day, I’m with them each day, and I see very good results and develop a link—a friendship—with the animals. My brother and my mother, who are always supportive and are always helping me, they say I have a mutual understanding with the animals that’s a little unusual. But the truth is, I don’t know.