Through an agent I found an interesting opportunity to perform with my horse and mule on a five-week circus tour of Quebec. I signed up for what proved to be an exhaustive tour. The first part of April, my entourage left Florida. The weather cooled with each mile driven north.
The tour started east of Montréal mid-April. On my way to the first town I saw ice still on the lakes. Like the other Canadian tours, this circus utilized Hockey arenas abundant throughout the province. Being surrounded by French-speaking people exposed me to extremes they have a reputation for, being rude and unkind. But at the other end of the spectrum, I found many to be kind and a fun-loving people.
I became part of a troupe that included the usual attractions for an indoor show. We had trapeze, magic, jugglers, a dog act, plate spinning, trampoline and Gary Sladack with his chair stacking act. The tour went first through the farm country of central Quebec and wound around the capital of the same name. Then the show went east on the mainland to the easternmost city. Mataine proved to be the most boorish place on the tour.
The entire show was loaded onto a ferry boat mid tour. We sailed north across the St Lawrence Seaway to continue our trek. The hour and a half long boat ride had an interesting highlight – a whale sighting. The trip continued northeast to Sept Isles, or seven islands, as our easternmost destination.
This season became a man-killer because we showed a new town every day, seven days a week, with an average of a thousand miles per week. A pace like this was hard on everyone. Three weeks into the tour, I was rattled mentally, physically and emotionally due to these demands, plus I was away from my sobriety group back home. I knew an AA meeting would help. Hopefully I would find serenity with my fellowship here in this strange country.
While in northeast Quebec I looked up the number for a local AA group. I wanted to attend a meeting close-by and called, only to find an answering machine with a message on it in French. Not knowing what else to do, I left my request for help using English. I hoped for the best. I found out later that the lady who retrieved the messages spoke no English. She had to scramble to find someone to translate my message.
When my request was finally understood, they were able to call and gave me the address of a meeting. The gathering ended up being in the building next door to the arena where the circus played. I was relieved. I could walk. I found the group. While I sat in the setting around a table, I listened to a language I did not understand, I was none-the-less connected to the others who sought relief from our affliction. I was relieved. I found an hour’s vacation from all my concerns.
The tour went north. Although the May weather was warming, occasionally the sky spit cold rain at us. Conditions between the performers in the backyard were not ideal. The management did not utilize the customary parking privilege system employed on most circuses. The result of this lack was a first-come first-served hap-hazard formula that pitted performer against performer in the backyard.
Every man for himself further aggravated emotions taxed by the rigorous man-killing schedule. Many times, I arrived to find rigs parked in disarray that completely blocked reasonable access to the door that the animals had to use. I then parked a block away. I was on my own until show time.
The routine I presented with my horse was abbreviated due to the lack of proper footing in the arenas. They put carpet over the surface – concrete or ice. Souveran wore clamp on rubber boots for traction. We did no canter work. We did trot and lateral work, the three-step, march, backwards double three-step, bow and camel stretch. I invented the box-double-dance-step, a new part of the routine. This addition to the routine encouraged participation from the audience and proved to be a crowd pleaser.
The box double dance step began with us standing in the center of the ring.
“Clap along with the horse,” the announcer introduced the concept of audience participation, “as the horse dances to the music.”
The organist played a highly recognizable hat dance riff and we side-stepped to one side and produced two foreleg strikes coordinated with two staccato music notes. Then the riff repeated and we moved the other direction and concluded with another two leg strikes in time with the music. The sequence utilized four stanzas and concluded with a chord and a style.
The lack of a good place to stable the livestock during this tour due to long jumps, the weather and unsuitable parking lots made the trailer an almost full-time stall situation for my stock. Betty and Souveran were getting cranky from not having an opportunity to lie down in comfortable bedding.
Way up north, beyond the 49th parallel, we played at a school where Eskimos and Indians lived. Although very poor, they enjoyed our show. Then the tour headed west towards gold country. I saw spectacular scenery on the longest jump of the entire tour, but the frost heaves made travel painfully slow.
As the rig hit a regular rhythm of ba-bump ba-bump ba-bump, the sheer numbers of those painful bumps – due to the length of the jump – became a form of torture that drove me mad. This ordeal was sort of like getting kicked to death by rabbits. I had no alternative except to press on at a slow pace. The slow pace elongated the excruciation.
Halfway through that grueling trek, at a truck stop out in the middle of nowhere, I saw Gary Sladack, the trampoline artist, pull in behind me. I zeroed in on him in my twisted mental state and spouted off in an attempt to get some relief from the mental frustration. Kind hearted Gary let me vent, and after breakfast, we continued on our way.
In an extreme northern location, halfway between towns, a swift river interrupted the highway. This locale had been assessed as being too difficult a place to ever build a bridge. Ferry boats carried traffic across this raging river. The circus rigs were loaded one at a time onto the boats. When we left the dock, the captain gunned the accelerator and steered the craft upstream. The swiftness of the current caused the path of the boat to make an arc like the path of a howitzer across the river. As I watched this madness, I realized the level of skill such a feat required. We arrived on the other side at the dock built to receive the trajectory ferry. While making the passage, one of the sailors told me about how much ice accumulated on the ferry during the winter because this service continued year-round.
In gold country, near Val Dor, a young French-Canadian girl was hanging around after the show. She displayed interest in my horse. Soon the prop boss, who spoke both languages, appeared with her and served as a translator. She wanted me to go with her. I was complimented and hoped she wanted romance.
We walked through the city streets to a Casbah. Instead of going inside, we stood out in front. I wondered what was going on. Soon a car pulled up. We got in. The night time ride was mysterious, and due to the lack of ability to have a conversation, I continued to wonder what she had in mind. Eventually we pulled up to a large farm complex. As I stood in the frosty illumination of the yard light at one end of the barn, she went inside for a minute and reappeared with a horse.
She then went into verbal gyrations with an unknown language as she attempted to communicate to me something that involved this sleepy animal. She waved her arms and produced a flow of a beautiful language that I concentrated to no avail to understand. I finally decided that she was challenging me to show her how to get that horse to do all the things I had my horse doing.
The bizarre nocturnal experience became even more ridiculous when I began to lead her horse around in a circle in the dark and attempt to communicate with her, as well as possible, using gestures and words that only meant something to me. Although, my understanding of the complicated process of making a dancing horse was available on that cold starlit night, I was using a language that she clearly did not understand.
After this nighttime rendezvous with my cute French admirer, the grueling pace of our tour continued. We cautiously made our way through moose country toward the capital, Ottawa. The performing locations in this urban area contrasted greatly with the venues in the extreme north. Grand arenas for larger crowds made our little show look good.
An amazing thing happens between man and horse when you take the horse away from the barn. Every time I unloaded Souveran from the horse trailer, the scenery looked different. Everything he was familiar with was gone in this constantly changing environment. The particulars of the venue, although they contained similar basics, had different characteristics. The situations that occurred during each performing routine in a new location each day were varied.
The stimulation of the ever-changing variety finally got the horse to the point of non-resistance and a bond developed between us. The only constant presence in his life was me.
My role in his life was to be a source of consistent guidance, love and encouragement. Trust developed. Even though I mounted up and pointed him towards the ever-changing, my confidence helped him settle into trust. He had a good work ethic. We developed the good nature of a true friends. I refer to this dynamic as connection. Every living being has, deep down inside, a desire for connection. I found it first with horses.
I must be careful when I attempt to communicate this real to me, special concept to others who have never taken a horse out of a typical situation. Most people cannot relate to the experience of becoming true partners with an animal, or empathize with finding a silent, unspoken bond. Souveran and I had an almost spiritual connection. He trusted me during all aspects of our life together. Love influenced all of our behavior with one another.
I hope you as the reader can appreciate just a fraction of the idea that each moment we were together was filled with regard and wonder. I gently talked to him and he responded with mellow nickers and nudges. I often think that the relational experience that happens with a horse may be a valuable, qualifying prerequisite for the complicated relationships that involve people. I have tasted true bonding. I have enjoyed union with a horse. I know strong connection with another living being is possible.
Around Montreal, the venues were closer together with short jumps. We finally had a chance to catch up on our rest. The weather warmed up and at the conclusion of the tour, a moment of togetherness occurred amongst the performers. We all laughed, breathed a sigh of relief and were glad this grueling tour was over. Then a long jump occurred; the trek back into my role as a motorhome airbrush mural artist.
This show biz diversion took place at the same time my reputation in the RV industry gathered momentum. Letterfly was rapidly becoming established as the top producer of high-quality airbrushed murals on motorhomes.