'Cirque Olympic - Exercises Equestres', hand-coloured etching

'Cirque Olympic - Exercises Equestres', hand-coloured etching

'Cirque Olympic - Exercises Equestres',
Hand-coloured etching,
France,
Early 19th century.
Theatre Museum

Horses and trick riding have been a principle act in the circus since its beginning. The modern circus started in 1768 when the English soldier Philip Astley left the cavalry with a white horse called Gibraltar and started a riding school in London's Lambeth, where he also performed tricks on horseback. He performed in a circular arena as the circular motion helped him keep his balance. The popularity of the circus quickly spread abroad. Astley took his circus to Paris while other English acts performed in Russia and America. Trick riders developed acts based on stories in which they could display their strength and balance on horseback. The type of horse was chosen for its broad back and steadiness, and although some riders used a pad to help their balance, others went bare-back.