By Troy Anna Smith
Portraits by Tracy Kujawa
In the picturesque landscape of Petoskey, Michigan, Emmy Love’s extraordinary journey as a horsewoman began. Nurtured by loving and supportive parents, Tom and Cindy Love, Emmy embarked on a remarkable adventure that led her to the hills of southern France and beyond. Her unwavering dedication, coupled with her love for horses, has shaped her into the equestrian, trainer and mentor she is today.
Growing up in a close-knit family, Emmy was exposed to the world of horses at a young age. Under her mother’s guidance and the transformative experiences in 4-H, she discovered a profound connection with these majestic animals. It was through 4-H that Emmy honed her skills with her leader Annie Gunderson, learned the foundations of horsemanship and developed an insatiable hunger for success in various disciplines. “Annie was a tough instructor and a tough 4-H leader, but we were one of the best clubs in Northern Michigan at the time because of her,” Emmy said. “It was so much more than just competing; it was how to take care of horses and the barn, and I became immersed.”
Following a remarkable opportunity to witness the captivating artistry of “Odysseo” by Cavalia, a unique performance involving horses and acrobatics all set to original music—like Cirque Du Soleil with horses, Emmy was drawn to the extraordinary world of the company, which has produced a two stunning shows throughout its lifetime. The first and oldest show of the two was called Cavalia, after the name of the troupe. Odysseo was two times the size of Cavalia and traveled throughout North America. “It’s a world where horse and human come together and achieve the most magical things in a peaceful and harmonious way,” Emmy said. “It’s playful, quiet, angelic and emotional to witness what can be done when horses truly trust their humans.”
Emmy felt the urge to learn more. “That’s when my whole life changed,” she said. “The first number of the show is my favorite, still to this day. It’s extremely calm and humble. Within minutes, I began to cry. At that moment, I knew that this is what I wanted to do.” The first number of Odysseo is called “Troupeau.” “It’s a celebration of horse and human. There are riders who are bareback with no bridle and do a series of vaults on and off the horse,” Emmy said.
At the time, Emmy was a freshman attending Albion College and found herself uncertain about the future. However, Emmy’s decision to delve deeper into researching Cavalia for the equestrian team blog at school was when things truly took a turn. Emmy interviewed the Cavalia director, Benjamin Aillaud, and as they exchanged words their connection sparked a spirit and shared passion. “I still cannot listen to the interview; I fear I will get too emotional,” Emmy said.
Soon after the interview concluded, Benjamin extended a coveted invitation. It was a stroke of serendipity, and catapulted Emmy onto the grounds of Cavalia, ready to be molded into something truly extraordinary.
Following Her Dreams
With her sights set on expanding her knowledge and skills, Emmy embarked on a life-changing endeavor after her short year at Albion. At Benjamin’s invitation, she began training at the International Horse Academy in the south of France so she could eventually join Cavalia. “I still remember my dad telling me to go; my parents were so supportive of my dreams,” Emmy said with a smile. “We are not big city folk; it was an absolute culture shock and we were all out of our element.”
Leaving behind the familiarity of home, she immersed herself in a foreign land, eager to absorb the wisdom and expertise that awaited her. Emmy was one of the first to enter the program. “My goal and dream was always to perform in Odysseo. Yet when I first arrived in France, the school wasn’t even open yet. I technically was the first student, and I helped build that school,” Emmy said. “I didn’t know anywhere in the States where I could get the same type of training.”
Over the course of 18 months, Emmy explored the realms of dressage, liberty, jumping, trick riding, roman riding and acrobatics, embracing the rich tapestry of equestrian disciplines. “I believe if you have a good relationship with your horse, you can do any discipline well,” she said. For Emmy, the 12- to 15-hour days, spread across six days of training and riding, coupled with a culture shock she had never before experienced, were among her most difficult.
“The goal of the program was to train and create young adults to go perform,” Emmy explained. “I had made it very clear to them that Odysseo was my dream.” By the time Emmy was ready to perform in Odysseo, she had become a leader at the International Horse Academy—she’d been there longer than any other students, and so instructors trusted her to take students under her wing as well as with responsibilities like basic riding classes and exercising the horses. “It was around Christmas; I finally got the call and was told I was leaving for the company of Odysseo,” she said. “I was extremely emotional, and ready.”
From 2014 to 2016, Emmy became an integral part of the Cavalia family, performing in almost every number alongside her equine companions that traveled everywhere from Vancouver to Dallas, Texas. Aboard Quiebro, a Spanish purebred stallion, Emmy specialized in dressage and dazzled spectators with her skills, showcasing the deep bond she had forged with her horses through years of dedicated training. “I remember being just thrown in and I figured it out. I watched a lot of rehearsals, got fitted for costumes and stayed persistent to be a part of the show. That is how I met Quiebro,” Emmy said. “The first time I rode him on stage, I could have been blindfolded; that is how well he knew the routine. It was one of my biggest accomplishments!”
Drago, Emmy’s later mount, a Lusitano gelding, arrived to her after months of working together previously in France. “I rode him in every number I could; he was very special to me,” Emmy said.
Following their retirement from Cavalia, Quiebro, now 19, and Drago, 15, were adopted by Emmy and found their new home on her parents’ horse farm. “It’s magical; they are literally unicorns. Both are part of my everyday routine,” Emmy said. “They have earned their retirement, and get to play with my nieces. They are total teddy bears!”
Life as a Horsewoman
Emmy’s thirst for personal growth and her desire to share her expertise with others led to a new chapter of her equestrian journey. After bidding farewell to the show that had become her second home, she became the barn manager of her parents’ Surenity Farm, named after Emmy’s mom’s Arabian stallion, Seahorse Sur, and located in College Grove, Tennessee.
During her time with Cavalia, Emmy crossed paths with Lucas Mendonça, an acrobat originally from São Paulo, Brazil, who performed on jumping stilts and was an aerialist in Odysseo. Lucas and Emmy fell in love during their time at Cavalia. “I was ready to propose to him; he took way too long!” Emmy said. “I wanted to marry that man so fast.”
Emmy and Lucas have now been married five years, and Lucas supports Emmy’s passion and assists her on her parents’ farm, further strengthening their connection. “Lucas doesn’t have a passion for horses like I do, but he knew this was a package deal when he married me and supports me tremendously in this endeavor with horses,” Emmy said. Lucas’ own passion lies in gymnastics, which is what brought him to Cavalia in 2010, and now he passes on his passion for the sport as a full-time coach in middle Tennessee.
Emmy, currently an instructor for horse owners seeking a stronger bond with their horses, started her business “Love, Dressage, and Horsemanship” on her parents’ farm. “I want owners to feel as though they can accomplish any discipline they want,” Emmy said. “I am not a program for any particular discipline, as I feel they only get people so far, and not every horse is the same. I want to give people the tools on how to build a relationship with their horse so that they have confidence in doing the things that they want to do.”
Emmy focuses on groundwork, behavioral development and riding. Guided by her belief in the power of a solid foundation, Emmy’s goal is to help individuals build profound connections with their horses, enabling them to conquer any goal they set their sights on.
Emmy’s unique approach to horsemanship goes beyond traditional training methods. She’s a firm believer in breaking mental barriers, encouraging her clients to explore the limitless possibilities that lie within their equine partnerships. “I always want my horses to feel good about their job, and be happy,” she said. By nurturing trust, understanding and respect, she empowers horse owners to overcome obstacles, unlock their true potential and forge unbreakable bonds with their horses.
Animal husbandry and care have always held a special place in Emmy’s heart, and she credits her early experiences in 4-H for instilling within her a profound sense of responsibility and reverence for these magnificent creatures. As Emmy reflects upon her past and looks to the future, one thing remains certain: Her unwavering love for horses will continue to shape her life.
“I try to focus on keeping the spirit of the horse alive,” she said.
For more information, visit lovedressage-horsemanship.com or follow @lovedressage.horsemanship on Instagram
Photos by Tracy Kujawa, angelheartfarm.com, unless noted otherwise