Just as horse trick riding can trace its roots back to the Roman Empire, Texas native Austin Anderson shares a love for both the species and the sport with his bloodline as a third-generation horse trainer, performer and stuntman.
Though the career has been all-in-the-family, Anderson, 43, also enjoys teaching anyone interested the skill set and the truth behind this equine activity.
Along with his intern, Ashley Pletcher, 19, who is a native of Sinking Valley, Anderson will instruct and perform for horse riders and lovers when he visits the area next week. Events will include a performance on April 27 for students at the Horsepower Farm in Huntingdon, a trick riding clinic on April 28 and trick training on April 29 at the Harmony Horsemanship Center in Sinking Valley. He will visit with other students and organizations throughout the week.
Anderson started his career performing with his family's show, The Texas White Horse Troupe, which was founded by his parents in 1963 in Troupe, Texas. In 2004, he created his own performance group, The Texas Trick Riders, which has toured across the U.S. and Canada.
Anderson said there's so much that goes into being good at what he does, including having a well-trained horse and being in top physical and mental shape.
"When it comes to trick riding, there's a whole lot more that goes into it than people think," Anderson said. "It's definitely a challenge. ... It's about being a good horseman and executing maneuvers on the back of a fast-moving horse."
Every rider does different tricks and has different abilities, Anderson said. The three standard categories of tricks performed include groundwork, balance tricks and drag tricks, with the latter two being done primarily by women and drag tricks being the most dangerous.
"It's a lot of work that goes into it," Anderson said. "It's not just something you would want to jump in and do. ... If something goes wrong, you have to know in a moment's notice."
Unlike tight-rope walkers or trapeze artists, trick riders must rely on another living thing to perform their physical feats - the horse. Anderson said that not every horse is a trick riding horse, and that they must be slowly introduced to the skills.
"The horse is 90 percent of trick riding," Anderson said. "If he's not working, you're not working."
After a 20-year career of trick and competition riding, and even doing some training work in Hollywood for movies like "The Great Debaters" and "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay," Anderson has now set his focus on training a new generation of riders. He said his technique is to make sure his students know the basics so they can learn to do their tricks cleanly when they get more advanced.
"Twenty years ago, it was just here's a horse, here's a saddle, hop on," Anderson said. "But I said a person needs the basic foundation in order to be a good trick rider."
At the clinic next weekend, Anderson plans to show riders the maneuvers that beginners need to know perfectly before they can advance, like getting in and out of a trick safely and being able to read your horse.
"The clinic is designed to educate people, and give them an idea of the work that's involved," Anderson said. "If they ever want to pursue trick riding, I teach that you can't just run out on the weekend and take an hour lesson and become a trick rider."
Pletcher, 19, is familiar with the time it takes to learn these skills. She's been interning with Anderson and the Texas Trick Riders since October, and riding for much longer than that.
"I got my first pony when I was 8 years old, and I rode that little pony everywhere and anywhere," Pletcher said. "I was always about running as fast as possible."
Pletcher studied with a trick rider before her internship with Austin, but working with him was her first experience with trick riding. She will showcase her newly learned skills for the first time back home when she performs a trick act at the Horsepower Farm.
"Working with Austin is just great in itself," Pletcher said. "He really breaks everything down and understands so much."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.