Professional stunt horse riders dig into their bag of tricks in Palmetto

jajones1@bradenton.comJune 2, 2014 

PALMETTO -- They are professional entertainers on horseback, traveling around the United States performing stunts at rodeos, circuses and halftime shows of all kind.

Their repertoire includes Cossack riding, noted for standing on or hanging upside down from a horse, bareback riding; and Roman riding, where a rider stands astride two galloping horses.

"We do a little of everything on horses: standing on them, going upside down, jumping off, jumping on, going under the neck, going under the belly, anything crazy you can think of on horseback, we do it," said Alina Stasik, one of four Palmetto-based riders, who also offer lessons to the public.

Other riders in the company include Gino Zoppe, Ermes Zamperla and Veronica Painter.

In addition to the trick riding, the four offer classes in western and English-style riding.

Paramount to the instructors is safety, an important consideration whenever strapping yourself onto a 1,000-pound animal.

Stasik and Painter met when they joined an acrobatics show. When the show ended, they decided they didn't want to return to their homes in Denver and the Chicago area and found warmer surroundings in Palmetto.

Usually stunt riders aren't tall, but

Stasik and Painter say their heights, 5-foot-10 and 5-11, respectively, are no detriment. They are athletes in peak condition, and while they don't necessarily make the stunts look easy, they do them with grace and confidence.

Anyone considering becoming a stunt rider should focus first on physical conditioning, including cardio and the ability to do crunches and pullups, they said.

Recently, Painter and Stasik, and their horse, Checkmate, an integral part of the act, showed a visitor some of their bag of tricks.

Stasik stood comfortably in the saddle, first turned forward and then backward as Checkmate galloped around the arena. Later Painter joined her, laying back over Checkmate's rear quarters, her head inches from flying hooves. Finally, Painter rode Checkmate solo, reclining on the saddle, her body balanced like a seesaw.

Stasik remembers being turned on to stunt riding as an 8-year-old, when she saw a stunt woman and decided that's what she wanted to do.

"I know what it's like to be a little girl at one of our shows," she said.

Painter hasn't been riding as long, starting at age 10. She has been performing as a professional entertainer about three years.

"My friends tell me you're the only one who got up and did what you wanted. I wouldn't have it any other way," Painter said.

The entertainers have a stable of seven to 12 horses that students can ride, or they can bring their own horses.

They don't recommend trying to learn stunt riding by watching YouTube videos or reading a book.

"You're putting yourself at risk if you don't take to heart being safe in a controlled environment." Stasik said.

Manatee County is horse country, and there may be potential future stunt riders in the Bradenton area.

"If you become good enough, we can help get you into the industry," Stasik said.

Lessons start at $40 for basic riding classes. Stunt classes cost $60 an hour for people in a group, and $80 for individuals.

For cost, class availability and location, call 303-246-9999 or 847-494-7878.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.

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