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December 7, 2012

San Diego Equestrians Assist Stranded Performers

When the equine and human acrobatics show Valitar at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in Del Mar, Calif., was abruptly canceled on Nov. 17, many performers found themselves not only stranded without pay, but also unable to procure food for themselves or their horses.

News of their plight ricocheted through equestrian circles in Del Mar, as well as neighboring Rancho Santa Fe and San Diego. Soon locals began bringing sandwiches, and the Del Mar Fairgrounds offered grain and hay.

Now the equestrian community has helped organize a Dec. 8 benefit performance to raise funds for the Valitar staff, many of whom are struggling to find the money to ship their horses home. After producers canceled the hotel rooms and rental cars provided for in their contracts, many performers have had to sleep in stalls or in their trucks. Vendors were also reportedly left without compensation. 

Depending on whether Saturday’s show sells out, the performers had tentatively planned to continue the run on Sunday and Monday. But on Thursday morning, Del Mar Fairgrounds spokeswoman Linda Zweig told the North County Times that only 500 of the 1,300 arena tickets had been sold.

“Everything Was Gone”

Designed as a showcase for equine-human acrobatics and aerial choreography, Valitar premiered Nov. 16 and closed the next day. Performers and crew members said producers Mark and Tatyana Remley, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., offered them no notice or explanation for the closure.

Several days later, fairground officials cited low ticket sales as the reason.

“That’s a lie,” said Enrique Martines, one of the stranded performers.

Martines helped the producers organize the acts and train the horses before the show opened. He said the show got off to “a good, positive start,” noting that the seats were packed at the first performance. The next scheduled show, which never took place, was “nearly sold out,” he said.

After the premiere on a Sunday, Martines said performers were told they would have two days off to rest and that the show would resume Wednesday.

“When we came back [the producers] had taken their own 20 or 22 horses, their tack and all the feed for our horses. Everything was gone,” said Martines.

He encountered two men attempting to load his haute ecole Friesian dressage stallions, Felkert and Gerden, onto a trailer. The men told him the producers had directed them to take the horses to the beach for a photo shoot. Martines stopped them from taking his horses but said they drove off with six or seven horses belonging to others.

Mark Remley reportedly made a brief appearance on site. When Martines asked the producer what was happening, he said the reply was simple: “You’re done. I’m shutting down.”

“They left everyone on the streets,” said Martines. “We couldn’t believe it. Why would someone do this? I still can’t process it.”

As of the first week of December, he remained stranded with 15 other performers.

Day To Day

A native of Spain, Martines owns and operates Monte Cristo Equestrian Center in Caledonia, Ill. He said he lost significant training income from his facility while he was stuck in Del Mar, and that the Remleys owe him $12,000 per month under his contract. Friends have banded together to raise money for his horses’ 2,000-mile transport, but he’s still waiting to see when they can get home.

Martines also said the health insurance coverage promised under the contract was not provided. Relying upon the provision, he had not renewed his family insurance plan, which expired. While he was in Del Mar, his wife and business partner, Lizbeth, suffered a serious illness and had to be hospitalized.

A local horse farm owner offered Martines a room in her home and stalls for his two horses. He said he is “grateful beyond words” to everyone who offered help, stating that a total of 90 performers and crew members were displaced. They had traveled to Del Mar from across the United States and from nations as far away as Russia, Mongolia and France.

Martines and other performers are seeking to recover their losses. Del Mar attorney Suzanne Porrazzo of Winner’s Circle Law said she is “privileged to represent many of the performers,” adding that she has put together a group of attorneys to help.

“We will do everything we can to make sure they are completely protected under the laws of California,” she said.

Meanwhile, said Martines, he and other performers “want to make the show happen again. It’s not going to end here. We’ll make something good come out of this.”