A long-legged teenage kid was how I first saw her, jeans, scruffy trainers, hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, helping out one of our polo players at Polo Club Landsberg-Ammersee. She'd be at the field most days grooming, warming up ponies and doing a bit of stick and ball as often as she could. Later, I learned that the player took her to a polo workshop at El Condor Polo School in Chiemsee, but the little matters of schoolwork and finance got in the way of her polo career, and so she faded from our polo scene. It wasn't until my son mentioned that she'd visited him in Polo Club Bern on her way to France that I realized she had become the stuntwoman, Laura Vau. I saw photos of her on a film set in Morocco mounted on an elegant horse and clothed in some sort of flowing blue robe reminiscent of the Tuareg riders of the desert. I was intrigued. So when I heard she was home in Landsberg for the New Year, I grabbed the chance to interview her.
Laura, when and where did you start to ride?
It was when we moved from Munich to Landsberg. I was just a small kid learning vaulting: Later, I got a horse share and at 14 got my first horse - a mini Fresian.
How did you get involved in polo?
A polo player moved her horses into our barn and I was looking to earn some pocket money and so started to groom for her.
And what made you take the leap to stuntwoman?
Well, I'd been teaching myself tricks on horseback. I'd modified my saddle and was just trying out stuff when my parents took me to see the Medieval Knight Tournament in Kaltenberg. A French stunt team was performing medieval jousting and trick riding. It was awesome. I was 16 and I was hooked.
I joined a medieval enactment group doing sword fighting but year after year kept nagging at the Master of the French stunt team to let me join his group. He ignored me, but one of the team whose parents ran a circus school in France gave me their address. I was 18. I bought a caravan and moved to France. With this move the French Master, Mario Lurischi, realized I was serious about a stunt woman career and gave me an apprenticeship. With that I was in the circuit and, after completing the apprenticeship year I became part of the stunt shows such as the Birds of Prey Show on horseback. I loved it all and was building up contacts
which then led me into films.
What was your first job in the film industry?
My first job was assistant horse master on a film set in Rumania, then onto Morocco where a major stunt group is based. Since then I've filmed in London, Abu Dhabi and India. India was especially interesting as here we can pick up the polo trail again. I was left to scout for horses for the shoots, teach actors to ride a bit and so on. So, I contacted the Jodpur Polo Club and, while we did have a few Marwari ponies, most of the horses we used were polo ponies. The 12 year old yard manager's daughter was already a super little polo player and I was able to give her the role of the Queen's daughter where she could display her riding skills and, after instruction, use a bow and arrow effortlessly.
It all sounds so fascinating. But what job have you enjoyed the most so far?
I think that must have been the year I took a break from film work and travelled through China with the Cavalia Horse Show. Horse-wise this was the most interesting and challenging. I was asked to take over 2 liberty acts.
What's a liberty act?
That's when the horses run free and body language is used to give the commands. You have to earn the horses' respect and control your emotions. You learn so much. Its immensely rewarding.
How did you learn to do this?
I think it's a very personal thing and can only be acquired by spending masses of time with horses, watching and adapting the techniques you've seen. Of course, there are certain cues the horses follow but there's always an element of risk that it won't work out.
I'm captivated by your nomadic life-style. You live in a mobile home, don't you?
Actually, it's more of a van. I bought it from a horse trainer and my Dad and I spent three months rebuilding the interior. After completion, my next job was in Morocco so I drove there. It took two weeks. Since then I've travelled all round Europe. I've set up my work bench in it and in between jobs I work leather, making tack, dog collars, belts, bags. My van is my home.
And what are your plans for the future?
Well, short term I have 3 things lined up in Israel, UK, and Morocco. And long term.....what I really enjoy is horsemanship - helping people with their horses. Perhaps this would be something for the future.
That sounds like a good plan. You'd be wonderful at it. Thank you so much for your time, Laura.
You're welcome, Jan and Happy New Year.