A few years ago, I sat under a tent-like structure in the Pepsi Center parking lot and watched Cavalia unfold. Created by one of Cirque du Soleil‘s co-founders, Cavalia highlighted the beauty, regal-ness, and athleticism of horses in an acrobatic show unlike any I’d seen before.

This month, ex-Cavalia performer and Denver native Erik Martonovich brings his own version of a human-and-equine production to Colorado with the debut of Gladius. “What’s similar [to Cavalia] is that it’s horses and acrobats—and that’s about it,” he says. “The idea behind Cavalia was a show about the horse and the freedom of horses. Gladius is a show about what horses and humans have accomplished together. It’s based more on the interaction between the two than it is just on the horse.”

Translation: Pushing both performers to the extremes of their abilities with acrobatic feats Martonovich says have never been seen before. Though Martonovich wouldn’t give too much away (and because this is an instance where it’s easier to see than to explain), he gave one example of acrobats moving between the draft horses and aerial silks.

Of course, nothing is done to the detriment of the animals (22 horses are in the show). Martonovich, a former member of the U.S. Equestrian Team’s vaulting squad, has been around horses since birth. At age five, he got bored of just sitting on them and started doing tricks. But he says he was always more of a “performer than a competitor,” so he started Big Horse Productions in the late 1990s to begin exploring the performance capabilities of humans and horses. “The horses are performers, too,” he says. “Their well being is the show’s well being. We have lots of respect for them and make sure they’re happy and enjoy it.”

Details: Gladius runs through April 20 at Westernaires Equestrian Arena at Jeffco Fairgrounds in Golden. Tickets are $15 to $100.

Image courtesy of Felix G Photography

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Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at daliahsinger.com.