Boulonnais draft horse makes debut at Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary as Cirque Ma'Ceo extended through March 3.
Myakka City's Olissio Zoppe is about to unveil his new baby.
No, not Ottavia Lucia Zoppe, who was born Jan. 11 to Olissio and his wife, Alexa.
Their first child won't stray too far from their ranch, for a while at least.
This baby is Ben, or Ben Hur de Bernaville in its proper form.
Ben, a 7-year-old Boulonnais draft horse, is only a baby when it comes to the circus ring. One of approximately 550 of his breed left in the world, he came to Olissio eight months ago when his previous handler, North American Boulonnais Association founder Lynn Gennrich, was having a hard time managing him. Olissio first spotted him during a horse show in St. Paul, Minn., and it wasn't long afterward he was asked if could care for Ben.
It was an important assignment since Ben is one of nine Boulonnais in the U.S. and being a breeding stallion, he has an important assignment. The breed's future could be in his hands.
This is a horse that has own Facebook site. There is pressure.
"I've only seen them in books," Olissio said.
He has a two-pronged plan for Ben. One, he wants to continue to breed the 1,850-pound animal. Two, he wants to make Olissio one of the stars of his Cirque Ma'Ceo, which has just had its run extended at the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Sarasota. Olissio said the notoriety of such a show, which features a blend of acrobatics, music, comedy, aerial acts and equestrian arts, could increase awareness about the breed's declining numbers.
The extension of the show has opened an opportunity for Ben to make his first appearance in the circus ring in Olissio's hometown of Sarasota. Olissio said he wouldn't have been quite ready if Cirque Ma'Ceo had ended its run as expected. Now, though, he gets to showcase the magnificent animal.
Eventually, Ben will take part in the bareback riding portion of the show where acrobats perform as the horses circle the ring. However, in these first performances, he will be asked to do the "liberty" which will be working with Olissio in front of the crowd wearing no tack. Olissio will be asking him to do movements such as bowing, rearing up and laying down.
"The horse is completely free," Olissio said. "It's the connection between man and horse. A horse has to be intelligent."
While Ben is both athletic and intelligent, Olissio said he only has been asked to breed.
"I was concerned he was a breeding stallion because usually they only have one job," Olissio said. "Then you are asking him to yield all that power to me. He's usually at the top of the food chain. If we're matching sizes, he is going to win every time. It comes down to confidence and some physical strength. But so far in training, he has been fantastic."
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