Horse-Riding Lion

One of the strangest circus acts you can see is that of lions and other large exotic felines (or sometimes bears) riding horses. A lot of websites that show pictures of an act of this type do not provide any information about the where the picture was taken. These sights generally treat the pictures as a humorous situation or curiosity. However, there is a serious side to this act--it demonstrates advanced training kills and also raises considerable animal welfare issues.

Circus posters show that these acts can be found in the late Victorian period where they were often described as "Equestrian Lions".

How it is Done

Other than a great deal of training for the cat and horse, the track is accomplished by attaching a frame, platform or large pad to the back of the horse. This allows the cat to grip and balance without harming the mount.

Known Examples:

Below are a few documented examples of circuses producing an act of this type, currently and historically. Examples are listed in reverse chronological order.

Hefei, China (2010)

Xiamen, China (2008-2009)

Pictures taken in Xiamen, China's Fujian province, show a male lion and tiger riding a horse. These particular pictures originate from a Daily Mail story that ran on February 7th, 2008. This rather angry article shows that while acts of this type used to be common in European and American circuses they are now widely considered unacceptably cruel in these markets, although a few exceptions can be found as shown below.

See also:

Shanghai Wild Animal Park, China (2007)

The Shanghai Wild Animal Park included a bear riding a horse in their show. An act covered in a typically judgmental but cursory manner, this time by The Sun.

Berlin, Germany (2005)

This site shows a picture of a tiger riding an admittedly very well padded horse.

Bertram W. Mills' Circus (1926-1927)

Miss Berti Hermann had a male lion that performed alongside a dog in an equestrian act.

The Sheffield Jungle (1913)

This circus featured an equestrian lion called D'Artagnan owned by a trainer going by the name of Miss Aurora (see below). The lion was a popular attraction mentioned frequently in local newspapers.

Welfare Concerns

Because horses are prey animals, it is generally considered inhumane to subject them to carrying a large predator even with extensive habituation and training.

Are large cat horse riding displays of this type inhumane?

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Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Interesting hub. I don't think animals, especially those that are natural enemies should be forced to perform together just for the entertinment of humans. Though I have seen a lot of evidence of different types of animals raised together from birth or very young that get on well and can actually be friends so in that instance it is different. I do think a full grown lion, tiger or bear is too heavy for a horse to support on its back that aspect is cruel.

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