LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Zippos Nicky de Neumann turns rescue horses into circus horses

Nicky de Neumann
Riding high with Zippos

When she was growing up, Nicky de Neumann was told she’d have to choose between the horse world and the theatrical world, but she was determined to do both. 2013 saw her bring the spirit of Astley’s first circus to Zippos with her spirited Roman riding. In the following article, which originally appeared in My Weekly, she told me, in her own words, how she became a stunt rider who these days turns rescue horses into circus stars.

Why ride one horse
when you could ride three?
I fell in love with horses when I was five-years-old. A school friend had a pony and from the moment I set eyes on it I was smitten. I begged my mum for a horse but I didn’t come from the kind of background where you get anything handed to you on a plate. My mum said, ‘Yes, dear, when you can afford one...’ So every Christmas and birthday I asked my parents for money instead of presents. By the time I was 11, I’d saved £500 and my grandfather was so impressed that he doubled it and I bought my first pony. I had him up until earlier this year when he sadly died at the ripe old age of 28.
I started trick riding when I was 14. My school wanted me to do work experience in a solicitor’s office but there was no way that was for me. So I found a guy called Rodeo Dave and I did my work experience in his stunt shows at county fairs - throwing myself on, off and underneath horses, going as fast as possible! It was dangerous, but when you’re a kid you’re fearless. I loved it.
Growing up, my two big passions were horses and acting. Everyone told me I couldn’t do both. At drama school, they wanted me to get rid of my horses, because they were such a big distraction and I was always tired. Everyone in the horse world, meanwhile, said I should forget about acting. But I was determined to do both and I have.
I’ve done a lot of fringe theatre, singing and cabaret. But I always seem to be called for more horse work. I played Annie Oakley for five years in a wild west show at Euro Disney. I also created my own all-girl stunt team and toured the country.
Nicky de Neumann
demonstrates the love with which
she turns rescue horses into circus stars
Horses need vast amounts of training for the type of work I do, which includes going over jumps Roman style, standing on two or three horses. But you can train any horse if you spend enough time.
I have two rescue horses, including one called Scooby who was going to be shot because he was deemed un-ride-able and out of control. I’m a sucker for a sob story and I took him on with no idea that I’d even attempt to turn him into a stunt horse - I just wanted to save his life. But now I’ve got him in the show and he’s terribly sweet.
To me, horses are like kids. They’re not inherently bad, and if they display bad behaviour there’s usually some reason in their past. So it’s about getting to know their personality and working with their strengths.
The training is all about making things fun and appealing for them. If they become your friend and know they’ll get rewarded with a carrot or a kiss and a cuddle, then they want to please you.
I’m currently touring with Zippos Circus and it’s lovely because I get to be with my horses 24/7. I live in the lorry, which is attached to the stables, so we’re all together. They get loads of attention and fuss and I’m there constantly, as opposed to someone who sees their horse once a day and pays someone else to feed them while they’re at work.

Interview by Douglas McPherson

For more inspiring stories of the lengths circus folk will go to pursue their dream, including a full chapter on Zippos, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus.

Click here to buy Circus Mania.

Click here to read an interview with Zippos owner Martin Burton.

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