Living a Little Girl’s Dream
Getting to Know Sylvie Willms
One of the Stars of Europe’s most successful live entertainment show APASSIONATA
Launching a North American Tour in Louisville this April.
After five million tickets sold, fifteen countries visited and nearly a decade of touring experience, APASSIONATA premieres in North America showing audiences the breathtaking display of the beauty of over 40 different horses and world-renowned riding teams.
For almost a decade this theatrical sensation, with original music scored specifically to work with the horses, has enchanted families and horse lovers alike with the finest horsemanship including magnificent dressage and exhilarating stunt riding, highlighting the natural elegance, nobility, speed and agility of these animals. Different breeds – from Bretons to Friesians – have been brought together from Europe and North America to create this evocative, thrilling theatrical event.
When producer-creator Peter Massine originally created APASSIONATA, he sought out legendary horsemen and women of Europe, many of whom had spent their lives working their discipline or have continued the breeding lineage of their forefathers for generations. These equipes showcase many breeds of horses, and the wide range of how horse and man have interacted with each other.
One of the internationally acclaimed equestrians joining APASSIONATA “The Beginning” is Sylvie Willms of the renowned Willms Family, who has devoted itself to the training and art of riding of thoroughbred horses for more than 300 years in both Belgium and France.
We visited Sylvie Willms at her castle in France to speak about the magical life she has training horses for APASSIONATA. Ms. Willms, known as the Horse Whisperer, will keep North American audiences in awe as she presents her superb freestyle Liberty Dressage and Friesian Quadrille.
It is a beautiful autumn morning in Burgundy, France. The picturesque fairytale castle that the Willms family calls home is surrounded by forests and cornfields, but the hard work has already begun. “Turn!” someone can be heard yelling across the sand enclosure – and you can see five free-roaming Arabian horses perform a pirouette as part of their routine. They all listen to one set of instructions. They are from Sylvie Willms, one of the stars of APASSIONATA “The Beginning.” Months of daily intensive training make it may look easy when the horses “dance” across the arena without harness or lunge.
After liberty work and dressage training, she makes her way to the on-site “nursery”. Here three foals vie for her attention. “The little ones are not getting any training yet. I show them playfully how to walk with me. And a small reward always awaits them afterwards,” Sylvie explains.
Later that day, Sylvie gallops through the hazy arena like a fairy on her horse. Her Arabian stallion wears no bridle and no saddle and exhibits the highest level of dressage. It is impressive yet at the same time playful to see how the “horse whisperer” seems to dance with her Arabian horses, Lusitano-stallion “Litador,” as well as the little ponies.
She has a very special relationship with her 18-year-old “Litador” who was three years old when he came to the Willms’ castle in France. “His previous owner started to ride him way too early and too harsh,” Sylvie says. “He was just unable to cope with his temperament.” In the beginning nobody could even pet Litador, he was afraid of saddle and bridle. “I needed to find a way in order to show him, that there are people who do not want to harm him,” Sylvie explains. “I watched him and talked to him. There is a very strong character behind his sensibility.” Every day the stallion became more curious and trusting. After a while Sylvie could cuddle him and shortly after that she took Litador for a little walk on the meadow close to the stable where they played in the green countryside. Today Sylvie rides the stallion without a bridle.
During the North American tour, Ms. Willms’ horses will perform several numbers, among them a liberty dressage with four horses – three Arabian and one Arab-Welsh – and a quadrille with four Friesians. What does look quite easy in the show is the result of extensive training in her personal riding arena. “I spend the whole day with my horses,” Sylvie says. Sometimes she is only watching them. “You need an incredible amount of patience and time for every single horse.” The love and enthusiasm for horses is inherited. Sylvie’s father Alex is well known as a horse trainer. Sylvie’s mother Céline was a successful rider herself in the national Belgian team Grand Prix. When the family is not on tour, they train horses for film productions.
There are only a few weeks to go before the new APASSIONATA tour premieres in Louisville as part of the Kentucky Derby Festival. Until then, Sylvie and her horses will be training hard for their show stopping performances, which for little girls, families and horse lovers, will make memories to last a lifetime.
For a full tour schedule, please visit www.apassionata.com/usa. New cities are added often!