MuCEM Collection, Museum of Civilisation in Europe and the Mediterranean © Photo RMN-Grand Palais / Franck Raux

Rider on the plateau, typical vaulting work, drawing by Juliette and Marthe Vesque, Circus Image Album: Ms Kalina, Medrano circus, 19 September 1907.

In the late 19th century, circuses were a place where it was fashionable to see and be seen. In this highly masculine circle, female riders gradually stole the star from men. Often the students of riding masters, they also presented their own numbers and stood out in grace, elegance and sensuality. In this fashion, Caroline Loyo (1816-1887), a student of François Baucher (1796-1875), became a veritable star of the stage and the first rider to perform high school figures in sidesaddle. At seventeen she performed for the first time at the Cirque de Paris run by Laurent Franconi (1776-1849). Other female riders followed in her step, such as Émilie Loisset (1854-1882), Blanche Allarty (1872-1962) and even Élisa Petzold (1850 - ?). Often demi-mondaines, these showwomen would at times turn the heads of upper class men who attended their performances. On the circular track, they sought to prove that horse riding is not an exclusively male science.