Acrobatic Circus Horses

Military Training to Natural Wildness
  • Peta Tait


Astley’s Circus in England was directly connected to the military through ex-soldier Philip Astley’s display of cavalry horse training, his published manuals, and his costumed identity in riding school performances. Militarized training underpinned the convergence of human acrobatic training and rider training in the founding of the circus (Saxon, 1978, p. 198), and the circus form arguably influenced the physical conditioning of the human body in nineteenth-century society. This chapter outlines how militarized processes of human-animal training in the early circus aimed to create a natural effect as acts expanded from displaying rider control over the horse to riding without visible control. It argues that while Philip Astley’s influential ideas of physical training for control without force were deemed scientific, he actually advocated the selective disciplining of the emotionality of both humans and animals in ways that were indicative of performance, and that Andrew Ducrow overlaid these training regimes with theatrical emotions suggestive of wildness. The larger point is that the conditioning of animals with human emotions not only underpinned inventive cultural practices of circus horsemanship in training and in performance, but remained allied with military practice upholding state authority.


Emotional Expressiveness Military Training Animal Training Wild Horse Greek Myth 
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Copyright information

© Peta Tait 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peta Tait
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.La Trobe UniversityAustralia
  2. 2.University of WollongongAustralia

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