Upstate New York native Jenny Vidbel has been living the circus life her entire life.
“I’m a third generation animal trainer,” she tell us. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do since I was four years old.
Vidbel’s grandparents created the family tradition, having met at Ringling Brothers where her grandfather was “shoveling poop for the elephants,” and her grandmother was riding horses. They fell in love, left Ringling and created their own circus, Vidbel’s Old Tyme Circus, with Jenny and her folks in tow.
“My grandparents taught me that animals are our family and they’re to be treated with love and respect and that they come first," she says. "That’s always been my philosophy in training and working with them.”
Today, Vidbel is a performer and animal trainer with the Big Apple Circus, which is parked at City Hall Plaza for its 35th season through May 8. She brings her big-hearted, animal-loving philosophy to Boston, where she presents her well-trained fleet of horses and dogs as part of the 1920's transportation-themed show.
For this particular show, the circus takes place in the middle of the city at City Hall Plaza. Where do the animals stay at night? How do they not freak out?
We have a portable stable set up in City Hall Plaza, and my trailer is right next to the tent so I can hear them at night and always make sure they’re OK. City life is what we do and we learn to tune things out — and so do the horses. They’re calm and relaxed as long we keep hay in front of them. They’re so used to traveling and being around commotion. We have six [horses] that perform in the show and three new horses who are training along, and 13 ponies.
There are also quite a few dogs featured in the show. Are they rescues?
Yes, all the dogs in the show are rescues. ... Some are from places where they were treated very well but the families couldn’t keep them, and then others were in bad situations and not treated well. You have some super happy dogs who are happy to work with each other and then some that I’m working to gain their trust. They’re happy to get a treat but they’re still testing the waters.