By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN “Do you like doing tricks?” Laura Robideau of rural Winsted asks her Gypsy Vanner horse, Zarena.
Zarena nods her head excitedly in reply, her long black and white mane waving up and down.
With the ability to yawn, strike a yoga pose, lie down, fetch, smile, and bow on command, Zarena is one special horse and she knows it.
She was featured on a Slumberland commercial recently, and seemed to enjoy every minute of the filming.
“She was like, ‘this is all about me,’” Robideau laughed. “You could see it in her eyes.”
Animal talent scouts saw pictures of Zarena online last winter, and contacted Robideau through an agent. Originally, Slumberland had been looking for a horse to simply appear in its commercial, but Robideau offered something even better: “I have a trick horse; she’ll sit on the mattress.”
So, one 14-below-zero morning in January, Robideau and Zarena headed up to Slumberland’s filming studio in Little Canada.
When Robideau saw all the expensive camera equipment on the set, she silently hoped Zarena would behave herself.
Luckily, the horse was more than happy to do everything asked of her, performing perfectly on the first try. The commercial also included a magician and a rabbit.
In the future, Robideau said she’d love for Zarena to do appearances at Slumberland stores, and become the company’s mascot.
This summer, she also hopes to entertain at the Renaissance Festival in Shakopee.
“I wrote a children’s book to go along with it, called ‘Zarena’s First Overnight,’” Robideau said, explaining that the story is about a horse overcoming obstacles and learning to be brave, much like a child’s first time away from home.
Tricks of the trade
Robideau, who lives east of Winsted with her husband, Paul, and 14 Gypsy Vanner horses, has been training animals since she was a young girl.
She’s studied under various instructors, most recently at the Minnesota Horse Training Academy in Ogilvie.
For Robideau, training horses is not only fun, it’s also a safety measure. Her horses know to stop immediately if they sense the rider is falling off the saddle, or if the rider says, “whoa.” During trick-training clinics at Robideau’s farm, horses are also taught to overcome fears of noisy, moving objects.
Another benefit of trick training is the strengthened relationship between the horse and owner.
“It keys them into you,” Robideau said. “They’re always listening to you, waiting for the next trick.”
All of Zarena’s tricks started out as actions she did naturally.
“Horses look for things to do when they’re bored,” Robideau said. “They’ll entertain themselves.”
Through treats and “a lot of praise,” Zarena now does tricks when Robideau says a certain word, or touches a specific part of Zarena’s back or chest.
“She learns really quick,” Robideau said.
Robideau and Zarena are looking for places to perform this summer. Contact information is on the farm’s website, www.lakeridgegypsy.com.
To see Zarena’s Slumberland commercial on You Tube, click here.