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10 of the Most Dangerous Circus Acts Performed Today


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Equestrian Acts
Balancing on a moving horse isn’t an easy act. © VIVEK PRAKASH/Reuters/Corbis
Balancing on a moving horse isn’t an easy act. © VIVEK PRAKASH/Reuters/Corbis

There's nothing safer than a pony, right? Stereotypically the animal of prim little girls and fancy boys in polo shirts (I get all my horse-owner data from Ralph Lauren ads), the gentle animals just can't strike a person as rough and tumble. Unless, of course, the horse in question is galloping at full speed while a rider performs acrobatic stunts and tricks. That is definitely dangerous.

More than any other discipline, equestrian acts (or trick riding) have long been a staple of circus shows. In fact, the first contemporary circuses were just equestrian acts with a few sketches of clowning or acrobatics mixed in [source: Speaight]. The performances might include vaulting on and off horses or standing on one's head while perched on a running horse's back. Circuses today still claim their equestrian acts as some of the most dangerous — horses, after all, aren't machines you can calibrate [source: PBS]. Performers must know not only their own act and tricks but must also be able to understand their equine partner.