The Donnert family has left a lasting impression on horse lovers all over the world with their spectacular shows. Their skills in handling, training and riding horses goes back five generations.
The essential joy of working with horses is that it brings me in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty and spirit. It’s a tough job, but also a very spiritual journey every time you train a new young horse to do tricks in the ring,” says Hungarian horseman Richard Donnert.
We are sitting beneath the dimmed stage lights on the ringside in the enormous red and orange tent of Circus Benneweis, which today is pitched in the outskirts of the Danish village of Ringsted, some 100 kilometres from the capital Copenhagen. The modern-day circus dates back to the end of the 18th century when it was originally an exclusively equestrian spectacle; its trick riders were later joined in the ring by rope dancers, acrobats, clowns and jugglers. However, today amazing horses still form the centrepiece of great circus shows all over the world, and one of the specialists in this field is the Donnert family of Hungary. They have been performing in circuses with horses for five generations. Their repertoire consists of spectacular acrobatic stunts done on horseback and other tricks that display their expertise in handling horses.
“We all started our careers almost from the moment we were born,” says Richard, the eldest of the five Donnert children. He is taking a quick break from training a couple of new young horses that may or may not end up in the show. “We see close to a thousand horses every year to find the special ones that have the physical appearance and strength of mind to become a top athlete in the circus ring,” says the horse trainer and acrobat. “It’s not easy, you know. For generations we have only used white horses. Beyond that, the horse needs to have a strong back and a mind focused on performing in the circus ring under the spotlight in front of a live audience.”
The six horses that the Donnerts are working with this summer are a big Percheron draught horse, two big white mixed horses, an Arabian/Lipizzaner mix, a Hungarian draft horse and a beautiful, slim but strong brown mixed Hungarian horse (the colour exception that proves the rule). “A few weeks ago, sadly, I had to let one of my best trick horses go,” says Richard. “He was beautiful, strong, good-hearted and extremely skilled. But he hated being in front of an audience. I hoped to be able to train him to accept the crowd, but in the end I could see that this was killing him a little bit inside every day. So we had to sell him…”
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