Carrying on a family tradition

Carrying  on a family tradition

Barnum and Bailey presents Barnum Bash


Missouri circus performer Cathy Carden is excited about coming to Beaumont. In fact, she said she loves Texas and always looks forward to returning to perform, along with her husband, Brett, and all of their animals. The Cardens live year round in Missouri but enjoy playing about 25 circus dates each year.

Both Cathy and Brett come from circus backgrounds, and it is traditional for them to carry on with what they know and love. Cathy is a seventh-generation animal trainer and performer. She began performing as a ballerina on horseback in her parents’ Cossack act at the tender age of five and has been at it since that time. By the time she was 7, she began working with her parents caring for the animals, which she still does today. “Oh, our animals are part of our family. They live here in Missouri with us and we work with them every day,” said Cathy. “People think it is strange that Brett and I both grew up with elephants, but we did.”

Cathy cared for her family’s three young elephants, and by the time she was 12, she was training elephants and liberty horses. Asking Cathy exactly what a “liberty horse” she explained. “A liberty horse means that the animal performs in the ring at liberty. He is not tethered or leashed in any way. He enjoys his liberty or freedom to perform and they love it, too.”

When Cathy celebrated her 18th birthday, she was given six liberty horses as her high school graduation gift from her parents. She trained these horses and performed in her mom and dad’s Hanneford Family Circus. Training animals is Cathy’s passion, but she was wise enough to know that she needed to be skilled in other areas of the circus. She’s a master acrobat, aerialist, trampolinist and dancer, and later added vocalist and announcer skills.

In 1998, Cathy was invited to be a part of the 129th edition of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey presentation The Living Carousel as a featured animal act with her liberty horses, and she was the understudy to Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson. “No one ever gets sick in the circus,” laughed Cathy. “But the ringmaster did become ill with an acid reflux condition where he was told he could not speak. I was ready.” Cathy said she did 32 performances where she sang and spoke for each of the two-hour shows. “It is much more work than anyone realizes,” said Cathy. “The script for the show was more than 2 inches thick, but I found it fun and challenging.”

Cathy’s husband, Brett, also grew up as member of a family of circus performers. He is a fourth-generation member and a third-generation elephant trainer. Brett was born and reared in Springfield, Mo., along with brother, Larry, and their 14 elephants. “I was born into the circus,” said Brett. “I grew up with the elephants and took care of them every day. His days involved feeding, exercising, training and simply being with the elephants. “I always knew my life would revolve around the circus in some way.”

The audience in Southeast Texas will get to meet one of the first elephants Brett trained, Duchess, who has performed with him now for more than 18 years.

Brett met Cathy when he visited his brother at the winter quarters for the 129th edition. Later, Brett’s dad was searching for a new act for his circus, and he decided to hire Cathy. The two fell in love while touring and were married. They now have two very active young sons – George, 4, and Cash, 2. While conducting our interview, Cathy had to excuse herself twice to go and care for the boys. We laughingly decided her life is just like any other busy young mom’s, stopping to care for young children, with the exception of the fact that her life also means caring for many well-trained circus animals that share the same Missouri acreage.

Brett and Cathy have toured on Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey presents Zing Zang, Zoom, Gold Edition, and feature a mixed liberty horse act, the Asian elephants, and a new dog act with an array of different breeds that jump, tumble, flip, and walk on their front and hind legs.

Ringling Brothers is excited to have this dynamic and versatile team of performers, both animal and human, as a part of the Gold Edition of The Greatest Show on Earth.

Southeast Texans can see Cathy and Brett Carden, along with all their circus friends, July 13-15 at Ford Park in Beaumont. Tickets for the show start at $10. A limited number of VIP tickets are available for $30, and front-row seating can be had for $35. All seats are reserved, and tickets are available at,, or at the Ford Park box office by calling (409) 951-5400. For group rates and additional information, call (409) 718-8289.

Cathy urged guests to plan to arrive and find seating before the pre-show begins. She said that the rocking Pre-show Party happens directly on the arena floor. Partygoers can learn news dance moves from Ringling Brothers clown DJ Dean, style in glitzy costumes, learn balancing and juggling skills, meet and take photos with circus stars, and even go behind the curtain for an exclusive backstage experience, which includes an up-close look at the exotic animal menagerie at Barnum Bash.

Organizers say that Barnum Bash is all the rage with outlandish thrills, hilarious hijinks, and majestic animals.

Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.