Animal Rights and opposition to circus became something of an obsession among circus folk. Often circus people become frustrated with each other and with their supporters for not doing more to defend their culture. The writers of this blog are among those frustrated people. However, it is often easy to forget the reasons why people continue or get into circus in the first place. It is with great pleasure that this blog presents the following some very short anecdotes of someone who despite often being at the sharp end of the opposition's stick few who have ever known her could say she showed anything but care for her animals (or people for that matter). Sally Chipperfield, daughter of Dick Chipperfield Snr, underpins the bond that develops between animal trainers and their charges, and puts forward (shock horror!) the argument that it is a two way street...
I think there is one point we forget to mention to the so called Judge and Jury who condemn circus animal trainers without meeting the animals. That is that these trainers may stand guilty of believing that they know and understand their animals and have a bond of communication which is hard to explain.
So here are some snippets from circus animals I have known in the past.
Iak was a spotted Stallion who I had to ride at short notice, I sat on him and he performed his routine without much guidance from me.
Shep, my Border Collie, was in love with Chicito, a mongrel who belonged to the girl in the ticket office. Shep would spend most of the day staring into Chicitos eyes until he heard the music before the dog act when he would wake up and rush to the door and arrive in time for his performance.
Yvette a small poodle who visited Jacko Fossett when he first arrived with his caravan on the show for a few weeks. When he returned at the end of the season she visited him from the moment he arrived. She never visited anyone else.
Vido a Shetland Stallion sold to Beverly Roberts, when Anne rang to say we forgot to mention he walks on his hind legs, The reply was: Don't worry he told us, when I took my bow he ran around the ring and walked out on his hind legs.
The elephant at Southampton Zoo performed her routine with nobody there.
Ace and Barley, two standard poodles, Rags a mongrel, Tiny a poodle cross terrier and Brin, a greyhound, sneaked into the ring when no-one was paying attention during the clowns entrée, Ace and Barley stood on the ring fence and the others ran around and jumped over them.
Every trainer you speak to will tell similar tales about their animals.
Sally was quite right. No sooner had this post been put up then several other people spoke of their experiences on circuses when animals had gone into their work without human interaction:
"Very true. When I was with Hoffman's Circus I used to help Jeff with the elephants. One day Jeff fell in the mud just as the music started. He had to go and change but we could not stop the elephants from going into the ring. I stood in the middle and they worked perfectly. Jeff got back just in time to take them back to their tent".
"We had a similar thing with one of our old appaloosas 'Silver' years ago (he has now passed on).
You wouldn't have believed it unless you saw it,even now it sounds far fetched.
At this point in time he was already retired from his role as lead liberty act horse (which he had done for many years) and one day my parents were watching him with the other old horses outside in their yard.
He looked them in the eye (almost as if to say "watch me"), trotted out to the centre of the yard and literally performed his old routine. Trot in circle, halt, back up, rear-up etc. It makes you wonder what goes on in their heads doesn't it?"