Part 2 Australian Circus Fan’s American Adventure

Australian Circus Fan’s American Adventure  Part 2

Earlier this year, when 18 year old Michael Riley was communicating with me about his trip to America, he asked about the possibility of him spending a few weeks after the World Circus Summit (which ended on July 19)  traveling with an American tented circus.   His purpose was to experience and observe the day to day life of a traditional American circus under the big top.   I told him I would check around see what I could do.


18 Year old Michael Riley from New Lambton, Australia. Little did he imagine what he would experience in his amazing American circus adventure!

Well, it just so happened that at about the same time I noticed a posting on Facebook from Ryan Easley, who is a young up and coming tiger trainer, who’s act was touring with the Kelly – Miller Circus.   He was looking for a young enthusiastic person to travel with him for  few weeks to learn, observe and help around his traveling tiger compound.


Professionally known as Ryan Holder, he proudly displays his magnificent tigers. Zeus, Diego, Zera, Zuri, Zulu, Zeya, Zola & Zahara.

It was a simple matter for me to connect Michael with Ryan via Facebook messaging.  The two went back and forth for a couple of weeks on Facebook, and it was finally agreed that Michael (who had never been near a tiger in his ENTIRE LIFE) would join the Kelly – Miller Circus on Monday July 20 in Minerva, Ohio.


Getting from the World Circus Summit in West Springfield, MA, overnight to Minerva Ohio involved a lengthy trip via Greyhound bus that began around 7pm in Hartford, CT, right into the hub of New York City, and overnight trip to Cleveland, OH, then a connecting bus to Canton, Ohio around 1pm the next day, which was only about 16 miles fro Minerva.  

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The Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. Michael describes it a “scary” !


In total contrast, the small town of Minerva, OH, where Michael joined up with Kelly Miller Circus on July 20, 2015.

Michael Riley:  “Before going to Kelly Miller it was mixture of really wanting to work on a true american circus but another part of me was scared of the journey ahead in another land.”


The Kelly Miller Circus, one of the few remaining traditional style circuses in America.

It took only a few days for Michael to get used to the American style of circus.  This show moved almost every day, and he made many new friends on the Kelly Miller Circus.  Michael jumped right in and assisted with helping to set up the portable tiger compound.  The first thing he learned from Ryan was “No matter what…Tigers come first!”   If he forgets any of the other instructions, go back to rule #1!

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Michael’s day began at 4:30 am! Helping to set up the security fence around the tiger compound.

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The outdoor tiger exercise compound, set up every day, even on off days.

Ryan Easley:   “This summer we welcomed an extra set of hands to help in the tiger department. Michael Riley hailed from Australia and came to the United States for the recently completed Worldwide Circus Summit 2015. To extend his visit, he was interested in touring with a real American circus and learning the specifics of caring for exotic animals on such a show. Through the Circus Fans Association of America and Circus4Youth, we offered him the opportunity he desired. There are no elephants or tigers remaining on circuses in Australia; only two show-owned lion acts are exhibited. We hoped Michael will make the most of this opportunity and take back a better understanding and appreciation of this one-of-a-kind, diminishing culture. He did not disappoint. A good work ethic and open mind helped him to excel. I have already seen evidence that what he learned here has carried over to helping spread public education regarding responsible exotic animal care and training in a circus setting. Thank you, Jim Cole, for building bridges that help serve to preserve the animal circus.”




At first, Michael was not allowed to get close to the tigers. But within a very short time span, Ryan expanded Michael’s duties to cooling down the tigers on a hot day!

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Helping to spot the temporary transport wagons into place.


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Helping to prepare food for the tigers, up to 12 pounds of meat a day per tiger!

 Those of us who are familiar with circus are aware that certain groups of “animal rights activists” will often stage protests at various circus venues.  Most activists are just a few protesters who peacefully carry signs, and are for the most part ignored by circus patrons.  There are however those who engage in criminal activity which may include making threats towards the circus and it’s patrons , vandalizing circus vehicles,  and even vulgar comments to the minor children who are in the circus!  Many circus animal trainers will go on on social media and try to argue and insult animal rights groups, which simply become a never ending “peeing contest”!

Ryan’s theory however is to ignore the animal rights groups (unless they pose a threat to him or his animals) and to have daily educational sessions which welcomes the public (and the activists) to see for themselves the magnificent close bonding he has with his animals.

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Hundreds of people gather to learn about how Ryan takes care of his tigers.


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The relationship that Ryan has with his animals is truly amazing!

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Ryan practices with his tigers almost everyday. This routine is called the “carousel trick”


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In the show, Ryan presents a triple back hind leg walk!

It has just been announced that Ryan and his incredible tigers will be at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, WI for their 2016 summer season!  To learn more about tigers, check out:

One of Michael’s goals on the the Kelly Miller Circus was to get to meet it’s owner, John Ringling North II!  Mr. North’s family had previously founded and owned Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, however sold it to the Feld family almost 50 years ago.  But Mr. North still had circus in his blood, and purchased the Kelly Miller circus a few years ago.


Michael with circus owner John Ringling North II, whom he became good friends with, even had lunch with him on a few occasions!

Ed Limbach, Circus4Youth:  “After the Summit Michael joined on with the Kelly Miller Circus to learn logistics of moving a circus every day and to assist Ryan Holder with his tigers. He assisted with the setup and tear down of the exhibition cage. My wife and I caught up with Michael when Kelly Miller was playing Middlefield, Ohio. We always break bread with John Ringling North II and we invited Michael to join us for lunch. The fact is he and John North hit it off immediately and both enjoyed the lunch conversation.

Michael’s aim is to have his own circus in about two years. This former businessman has no doubt he will accomplish his goal. He has tremendous passion for the circus and will succeed.”


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A visit from his new adopted American Mom, Cyndi Williams from Peru, Indiana



On his last day on Kelly Miller, with Circus4Youth editor, Jim Cole.

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On August 27, as a special added bonus to his trip, Michael and Jim Cole went to Chicago and saw Circo Hermanos Vazquez.

Michael Riley:  “After leaving Kelly Miller Circus I learned just how hard I could really work, I learnt that sometimes you just need to take risks to make better experiences. Circus has taught me more then I ever learned in school.”



O’Hare Airport, the first leg of Michael’s return home.


Well, after 7 weeks in the United States, Michael’s INCREDIBLE circus adventure came to and end.  On August 28, after saying his goodbyes on Kelly Miller Circus, he was taken to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport for his long trip back to Sydney, Australia.  

However, Michael is ALREADY working on plans for a 2016 return to America!


…and back in Peru, Indiana!