circus horse bare back riding

Just once in my long life I rode a horse. Not just any horse, but one in a circus. And didn’t fall off.

I was in my mid twenties, and been married for less than a year. We lived in Surbiton, in Surrey, and the circus came to Kingston, more precisely, the Kingston Swimming Baths. During the winter they were covered over with wooden decking, and anyone could hire.

Four of us went, two couples, and it was a pretty mundane circus, unmemorable for any reason except for when they wanted a volunteer to ride the circus horse. Like an idiot, my hand shot up.

There was a long rope attached to a pulley in the ceiling, and the ring master, resplendent in his red jacket, top hat and polished boots told me very firmly to place a harness over my torso. There was a hook at the back of the jacket, connected to the rope, going up to the ceiling, and the other end had three muscular circus roustabouts holding it. They were bored.

The single horse stood patiently alongside the ringmaster and me, knowing full well what was going to occur. I was going to ride it.

The man in the red jacket said to me ‘what’s your name, son?’

‘Harry’.position number two

He then spoke very loudly into the microphone. ‘Ladeees and gentlemennnnnn. This fearless young man, who has never ridden a horse before, for the very first time, is going to ride this untamed horse around the ring. His death defying courage is just for you. I give you……..Harreeeeeeee’

To me he said ‘get on the horse, son, go on, it won’t bite.’

Reluctantly I scrambled onto the poor creature’s back, but there no saddle, so I almost fell off the other side. However, I clung onto its neck, and it was then that I realised that a horse’s head and neck are very hard, because they were bouncing up and down against the side of my head as the horse seemed to be running round in circles. All I could hear was the sound of the crowd cheering. Of my bride of less than a year there was no distinctive sound. All sights were just a blur.

Then one voice could be heard above the others. It was the ringmaster. ‘Sit upright on the horse,’ were the stern tones. Amazingly, I achieved this almost impossible instruction. There was now a wide grin on my face. I was riding a circus horse, without falling off. The fact that there was a rope attached to my back had something to do with it, but, hey, no-one one else was up there with me.

‘Now on your knees.’ You have got to be kidding. My greatest achievement, and he wanted more. ‘Come on, you won’t fall off.’

‘It’s all right for you to say that, mate, but you’re not the one bouncing up and down on an untrained wild animal.’

So I went onto my knees, and still didn’t fall off.

Round and round I went, my grin so big it could have swallowed the horse. The biggest achievement of my life. Okay, second biggest achievement, I had married Pam a few months previously.regrettably, this is not me

‘Now stand on the horse’s back’.

One word shouted by me. ‘What?’

By now the crowd was roaring, goaded by the man in the middle with the microphone. They were all shouting ‘stand up, stand up, STAND UP.’

If your public demand something, then you have to satisfy them, don’t you? Round and round went the poor dobbin, me bouncing up and down on its back, so I stood up. Just for one second, I was there, and then another force took me over. It was the rope attached to my back.

The three circus hands, under instruction from the ringmaster, yanked, and there I was, soaring just like Peter Pan. I was flying.

Seemed like I was almost as high as the roof, maybe I am exaggerating but probably not, my arms were out, my legs were trying to swim, and my waist was constricted in the harness. All too soon, the men lowered me, none too gently I seem to recall, and the crowd went wild.

I walked across that sawdust ring to my young bride, huge grin on my face. I had ridden a horse. In the circus. And not fallen off.