With just your instincts and a tonne of practise, imagine yourself hovering six feet above the earth on top of two horses, with one foot planted on each horse’s back and your knees slightly bent. The massive, powerful Clydesdale draught horses that you are standing on weigh almost a tonne each. The horses are trotting side by side underneath you in an arena while you watch, doing lengthy laps in front of hundreds or perhaps thousands of spectators.
Of course, what you’re doing is hazardous. It’s possible to stumble and break a limb or, worse, to get stepped on. Don’t worry, however; you’ve accomplished this numerous times before and you make the difficult seem simple. You now give the horses the command to accelerate. The audience is ecstatic and gives a round of applause. Watch you go!
For the last five years, Michaela Redeker, 22, of Daredevil Draughts in Catawissa, has been entertaining audiences with risky acts like this one. There are very few people who can do the unique skill of standing on the backs of two horses and riding them; this is called Roman riding.
As her lifelong friend Kathleen Phelps put it, “The control that she has of them (the horses) is just spectacular.” Phelps has known Redeker since birth. Redeker’s life revolves on horses, according to Phelps, a native of the Springfield area and skilled rider herself.
She is passionate about this. Both in her performances and in her interactions with them, it is evident.
To say that Redeker has a history with horses would be an understatement. Her father, Jeff Redeker, spent some time living in Texas and was raised among horses. He has rode horses and bulls while working on farms. He now works as a farrier, shoeing and clipping the feet of horses.
Hope, Redeker’s mother, never had any pets as a child, but she had always wanted a horse. In the end, she was hired by a Glencoe veterinary facility as a technician. That’s where Hope and Jeff first connected.
“That’s a cowboy, my mom said, and that’s the most beautiful woman in the world, my dad said.” Thus, Redeker adds, “they dated and got married.” “They obviously needed horses as well.”
“The middle of busy Wildwood, with a Starbucks right down the road and big fancy subdivisions all around us,” is how Redeker remembers her upbringing on seven acres.
She had a pony called Snickers and enjoyed playing in the barn’s hayloft. “The dream of every little girl,” she said. “I dressed him up and drugged him around the neighbourhood; it was great for me, but miserable for the pony.”
She depended on her parents’ Arabians and quarter horses for trail trips.
In addition, Redeker’s mother bred and competed with Percherons, a kind of draught horse. Redeker used to like sitting on the Percherons as a little child, but when she was in her early teens, she started to question, “Why aren’t we riding these things?”
Soon after, she decided to try her hand at riding them. Redeker had to ride the majestic creatures bareback since her parents didn’t have saddles large enough for them, and the horses often perspired as a result. They do sweat a lot, and Redeker is all too aware of how unpleasant it is to ride sweaty draught horses bareback.
Gradually, another thought occurred to her: “How about I just get up on these two horses simultaneously and ride them?” She was fourteen.
“They weren’t great,” Redeker acknowledges of her early tries. All the same, she persisted. She was able to initially maintain her squat stance and place one foot on each of the horses. She was soon getting up for short periods of time. For her, the possibility of sliding off seemed nothing.
She said, “The horses were so big that I would just land on the horse if I fell or just decided to get down.” “After that, I could get back up there and sit on the horse and try to stand up again.”
After school and before her parents got home from work, Redeker spent some time training herself the skill of Roman riding. She sometimes recorded films of herself to document her development. She eventually gave them to her parents. She exclaimed, “Look what I did today!” to them. Mother of Redeker was almost inconsolable. “That was not you!” Redeker remembers her mother stating. “What if they stepped on you, or what if you fell?”
“I never thought about that,” Redeker now adds.
What was her father’s reaction at the time? “My dad anticipated it,” Redeker said. “Yes, that is my child,” he simply said.
A Pastime Grows Into Something Greater
As Redeker puts it, the adolescent girl was “just out there being wild with the horses” until she was seventeen. At that point, she got so skilled at Roman riding that she began receiving requests to perform in front of audiences in exchange for a salary.
The Daredevil Draughts were born.
Redeker presently lives with her parents on a horse farm near Catawissa, replete with a home, barn, and arena situated on 12 acres. The property also has three dogs, eighteen hens, and, of course, draught horses.
Redeker owns eight draught horses: two Clydesdales, a type from Scotland, one Belgian, and five Percherons, a breed that originated in France. The two Clydesdales, Jordy and Hef, and two Percherons, Jetty and Marmalade, are the ones Redeker travels with at shows.
She recently participated in the Georgia National Fair Draught Horse Show’s opening ceremony with the two Clydesdales. Redeker had received an invitation to play at the October festival, which takes place in Perry, Georgia, for the second year in a row.
Redeker rode into the arena on top of the two horses, dressed to the nines in bell-bottom trousers, a shirt covered in glittering stars, and long fringe hanging down her arms. She rode atop the horses and carried the American flag around the arena while the “Star-Spangled Banner” played.
“It was truly magnificent,” said Andrea Eubanks from Warrior, Alabama, who co-manages the Georgia draught horse exhibition with her spouse, Dallas. While there are other people in the nation doing Roman riding similar to Redeker, Eubanks pointed out that most of them are guys. “And then there’s this adorable little kid named Rebeker who is obviously fearless. She resembles the cowgirl I’ve always wished I could be.
Redeker has done Roman riding over the years in many states as well as Canada. In 2014, she gave her first Roman riding demonstration in public at the Mid-Missouri Horse, Mule & Ox Farming & Historical Craft Days. Among many other events, she has recently performed at the Breeds Barn Show at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, the 2018 World Percheron Congress, hosted in Des Moines, Iowa, and the 2018 World Clydesdale Show, held in Madison, Wisconsin. She also often shows up during rodeos.
In keeping with her mother’s tradition, Redeker has also competed in innumerable draught horse shows, frequently at state fairs. Over the past ten years, she has won top honours in a range of classes, including halter, ladies’ cart, bareback, and log skid, which requires a draught horse to weave through a course while pulling a log. Depending on the performance, the prize purse’s amount might vary from $100 to $15,000.
In addition, Redeker represents the Missouri Draught Horse & Mule Association as its ambassador. In that capacity, she engages with onlookers after events or performances, responding to inquiries and educating them on the variety of uses for draught horses, which extend beyond their use as powerful workhorses for pulling waggons or ploughs.
Picking a Different Route
Though it’s difficult to believe Redeker would have time for anything these days but horses, she is enrolled in welding classes at the Four Rivers Career Academy offered by East Central College.
Redeker doesn’t want to give up on the world of horses, but a few years ago she started thinking about her financial stability and the need of a retirement plan. Redeker was also aware that it may ultimately be taxing to execute on draught horses. “As I get older, my body won’t be able to do this,” she said.
Redeker’s mother advised her to choose welding school as she couldn’t see her spending her days doing an office job. “I was captivated,” Redeker remarks. For the rest of my life, I could see myself doing that. In the spring, she will get her diploma from the two-year programme.
Her dream job would be to work on an oil pipeline in Texas or South Dakota. According to Redeker, the work is demanding but the pay is high. She claims that working in a pipeline would enable her to work for half the year and spend the other half of the year with her horses at home.
“My objective is to work on the pipeline for a minimum of three years, earning as much money as I can, and then return home or relocate to another location where I can find a simple welding job, perhaps in a shop, and have more time for the horses.”