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Dan Fitzgerald Explains
by [?]

The circus was having its afternoon siesta. Overhead the towering canvas tent spread like a giant mushroom on a network of stalks — slanting beams, interlaced with guys and wire ropes.

The ring looked small and lonely; its circle of empty benches seemed to stare intently at it, as though some sort of unseen performance were going on for the benefit of a ghostly audience. Now and again a guy rope creaked, or a loose end of canvas flapped like faint, unreal applause, as the silence shut down again, it did not need much imagination to people the ring with dead and gone circus riders performing for the benefit of shadowy spectators packed on those benches.

In the menagerie portion matters were different; here there was a free and easy air, the animals realising that for the present the eyes of the public were off them, and they could put in the afternoon as they chose.

The big African apes had dropped the “business” of showing their teeth, and pretending that they wanted to tear the spectators’ faces off. They were carefully and painstakingly trying to fix up a kind of rustic seat in the corner of their cage with a short piece of board, which they placed against the wall. This fell down every time they sat on it, and the whole adjustment had to be gone through again.

The camel had stretched himself full length on the tan, and was enjoying a luxurious snooze, oblivious of the fact that before long he would have to get up and assume that far-off ship-of-the-desert aspect. The remainder of the animals were, like actors, “resting” before their “turn” came on; even the elephant had ceased to sway about, while a small monkey, asleep on a sloping tent pole, had an attack of nightmare and would have fallen off his perch but for his big tail. It was a land of the Lotus-eater “In which it seemed always afternoon.”

These visions were dispelled by the entry of a person who said, “D’ye want to see Dan?” and soon Dan Fitzgerald, the man who knows all about the training of horses, came into the tent with Montgomery, the ringmaster, and between them they proceeded to expound the methods of training horseflesh.

“What sort of horse do we buy for circus work? Well, it depends what we want ’em for. There are three sorts of horses in use in a circus — ring horses, trick horses, and school horses; but it doesn’t matter what he is wanted for, a horse is all the better if he knows nothing. A horse that has been pulled about and partly trained has to unlearn a lot before he is any use to us. The less he knows, the better it is.”

“Then do you just try any sort of horse?”

“Any sort, so long as he is a good sort, but it depends on what he is wanted for. If we want a ring horse, he has to be a quiet sober-going animal, not too well-bred and fiery. A ring horse is one that just goes round the ring for the bareback riders and equestriennes to perform on. The human being is the “star”, and the horse in only a secondary performer, a sort of understudy; yes, that’s it, an understudy — he has to study how to keep under the man.”

“Are they hard to train?”

“Their work all depends on the men that ride them. In bareback riding there’s a knack in jumping on the horse. If a man lands awkwardly and jars the horse’s back, the horse will get out of step and flinch at each jump, and he isn’t nearly so good to perform on. A ring horse must not swerve or change his pace; if you’re up in the air, throwing a somersault, and the horse swerves from underneath you — where are you?”