The Horsewomen of the Belle Époque

Susanna Forrest at The Paris Review:

The glamour of both types of horsewoman was impeccable, their skill and bravery vertiginous. These long-dead performers became celebrities to me, fleshed out beyond the Impressionist postcards: Elvira Guerra, the first woman to compete against men at the Olympics in 1900; Caroline Loyo, “the diva of the crop” whose black eyes and disciplinaire riding brought the Jockey Club boys to the Paris circuses; and Suzanne Valadon, the acrobat of Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings who went on to be an artist herself after an injury cost her her career in the ring.

The modern circus was born in England in the late 1760s when a former soldier called Philip Astley pioneered the first recognizable circuses, centering on the horse. His wife, Patty Jones, became the first woman performer, standing on the backs of three horses as they cantered around the ring. Later she took to riding with her hands covered in bees.

more here.