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Spotlight: Caroline Williams saddles up for quick-change act

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  • | 5:00 a.m. February 12, 2014
"That's my life," Caroline Williams says. "This is it. I get to do my passion and my love and my hobby and my everything."
"That's my life," Caroline Williams says. "This is it. I get to do my passion and my love and my hobby and my everything."
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Caroline Williams has bad days like in any profession. But her worst day is a little different than most — it consists of wearing muck boots in the pouring rain. Even then, she still has a smile on her face.

“I’m still there with the horses, so it’s never really that bad,” she says.

She recently discussed her background and Circus Sarasota performance on-site at The Big Top, where many of the performers live for the duration of the circus. She commutes between the circus and her home in Myakka, where she lives with her six horses, son and fiancé.

She begins talking about her act: She enters the ring on horseback. Williams’ is going for a bad-to-the-bone look in a heavy-metal-inspired black outfit with silver studs on her coat and bullwhip in hand. She’s a commanding first act of Circus Sarasota’s “Wonderstruck,” which runs through Feb. 23.

She’s performing the first quick-change act on a horse ever. She’ll magically change through four costumes (each change takes 15 to 20 seconds). Each transformation changes the mood of the performance.

The equestrian is petite and pretty, and aside from her horse-printed graphic T-shirt and a little dirt under her nails, she does not look like the type who would spend 24/7 in a barn. It’s more than a full-time job tending to, caring for and training her horses — there’s no vacation. But she likes to take her son to Disney World occasionally. She also gives private horse and rider training and instruction.

This performance is Williams’ quick-change debut, but she’s been performing (doing high school dressage and horses at liberty, see definitions, below) since she was 2 years old. She is an eighth-generation circus performer who immigrated from Germany with her parents when she was a baby. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey was starting a second touring unit and hired the Williams family (and their 14 elephants, 18 tigers, 36 horses, ponies and exotic birds) to come to the U.S. for what was supposed to be a five-year contract. But, the Williamses never went back and made Venice their winter quarters, along with the rest of the circus performers.

By growing up in the industry, Williams has acquired a lot of equine knowledge. For one, the circus stemmed from equestrian acts trick rider Philip Astley developed in 1768. And, sticking to tradition, this is also why equestrian acts lead the circus performances. The circus standard of performing in a ring 42 feet in diameter also comes from equestrian.

But she’s also learned a lot on the job. For one, she’s learned to secure her hair before performances. Once, she was supposed to pop a balloon with her bullwhip. Instead, the whip changed direction and grabbed a portion of her blonde wig. The whip pulled the wig off her head and dangled from the tip of the whip for the whole audience to see.

“This performance, I have secured my hair,” she says with a laugh. “You live and learn and live and learn.”

Horse terminology:

High School Dressage — High school meaning the highest level of dressage. Dressage is a horse-training sport in which the horse appears to dance. The rider is mounted on the horse and leads it in classic moves and steps.
Horses at Liberty — Like dressage, where the horse (or group of horses) appears to dance. The unmounted trainer uses body language and subtle signals to direct the horses.

* Visit for more information.

Circus Sarasota Winter Performance: Wonderstruck
When: Runs through Feb. 23
Where: Under The Big Top, Tuttle Avenue and 12th Street
Cost: Tickets are $12.50 to $25.
Info: Call 355-9805 or visit


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