Wild and wonderful
Meet some colorful and talented local characters who bring the Wild West to life with their Western entertainment performances.
Clay Karson may only be 15 years old, but he’s an expert trick roper, Roman rider, whip popper and all-around cowboy, with one exception.
“I’ve tried bull riding,” said the spunky teen, with a sheepish grin, “but I’m a bull-gitter-on’er, not a bull rider.”
Clay’s impressive skills were on full display on Sept. 16 during the Wild West Show portion of the Church at Triple Cross Ranch’s second annual reunion weekend. He demonstrated his prowess with a lasso by performing numerous rope tricks, some of which involved being inside the spinning circle as he moved it back and forth vertically and horizontally.
His whip snapping resounded over the audience with loud and sharp “pops” of the fast-moving length of polished leather. He is such an accomplished whip popper that he can “cut” a 12-inch piece of Styrofoam by slicing it into smaller and smaller sections while holding it in his mouth.
Clay’s most stunning “act” that day was when he appeared from behind his family’s horse trailer on the far end of a pasture and galloped into the audience’s view with one foot on Big ‘Un and one on Golden Nugget, both palominos. The feat is called Roman riding and is a certain crowd-pleaser. That proved the case as Clay made several circuits with his two-horse team, gaining speed each time and sometimes even straddling a fire pole as he raced past.
“I started riding Roman when I was 7. This is my team, that we started a couple months ago, and this is their first show,” he said before the event started. “If you have a really good team that will stick together and that you can talk to, it’s really easy, but your knees and legs really ache after a while.”
He said communicating with the team is critical and that he really does talk to his horses.
“Usually, I just say, ‘Step up, please.’ We had one team, you could talk to them as much as you wanted but if you didn’t say please, they would not move,” he said firmly.
Clay comes from western entertainment and show business royalty. His father, Shane Karson, is a second-generation performing cowboy. His stepmother, Julie Karson, is the daughter of Tim and Patty Rivers, owners of Animals In Motion in Citra, which trains exotic animals for film and television work. Shane and Julie also were part of the Wild West Show.
Shane Karson has performed all over the country, including at Frontier Town in Ocean City, Maryland; with Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; at Arabian Nights in Kissimmee; and with the Colorado Riders show at Boardwalk and Baseball, a theme park at Circus World in Haines City.
Julie Karson is a veteran of her own animal acts in numerous venues, including at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and the Silver Springs Attraction, and in training animals for movies such as “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and “Stargate” and for television shows and commercials.
The Karsons have lived in McIntosh, in north Marion County, for three years.
Shane was born in Delaware and his father ran Frontier Town in Maryland for about 10 years when he was a youngster. He later performed there as an adult.
“I have been in the business since I was little. My mother trick rode and did Roman team,” he said. “Roman riding is where you stand on top of two horses. They claim that years ago the Romans used to do that, stand on the chariot teams and, to the enemy, from a long distance, they looked like giants.”
Shane has had both knees and one hip replaced, but he still does trick riding and is an expert in mounted shooting, a skill he displayed for the crowd at Triple Cross, riding his horse Hollywood while weaving in and out of wooden cactus display stands and shooting out the balloons that were attached.
He and Julie crossed paths many times over the years and reconnected in 2014.
“My family had a lot of exotics, we did fair shows, a lot of circus type stuff, we also did rodeo,” she shared. “But I always wanted to do my own thing. I’ve done movies and television. I was a professional stunt person. When we were at Circus World, I did an aerial act called the Spanish Web. I also started training and doing shows at Silver Springs in Ocala and ended up being an independent contractor for Weeki Wachee. I had a dog, cat and pony show called Wags and Whiskers, and then I did the Feathered Follies educational trick show for 10 or so years.”
Julie said she and Shane knew each for about 30 years before “Our worlds came back into focus and I ended up in Maryland with him at Frontier Town for like 10 years.”
During the recent show, Julie and the Amazing Amigo did a “liberty” act in which the former “circus pony” strutted his stuff under her direction, including posing on top of a small platform on all fours.
“He acted like he wanted to do something every time we’d get some of the other horses out and work,” she said.
Connections in Common
Rounding out the main cast for the Wild West Show were Shane Kuhn, Callie Sue Edwards and Deke Rivers.
A common denominator among the performers is the Rev. Norman Edwards, pastor of the Church at Triple Cross, which is located in Shiloh in northwest Marion County. He was a professional rodeo announcer for 30 years and started his ministry when the family lived in Davie in South Florida.
“We’ve been in Marion County for 19 years. The show tonight is a reunion of 36 years of ministry, 17 of those in Davie,” he said.
The family’s Triple Cross Ranch, where the church is located, is home to Edwards and his wife, Phyllis, and their daughters Callie Sue Edwards and Angel Rae Miller, a national champion barrel racer.
Callie Sue and Shane Kuhn are a couple and have the Banjo the Water Buffalo and Friends traveling show. His work in helping manage camels during a Church at Triple Cross Christmas event brought him into the orbit of Norm Edwards and Tim Rivers. Kuhn and Deke Rivers have worked together for years, in numerous shows and other capacities.
Shane Karson taught Callie Sue to trick ride when she was a little girl in South Florida. Of why she still loves to perform these days, she said, “I love seeing people smile.”
It’s All About the Banjo
Kuhn and Callie Sue Edwards are well known locally for their Banjo the Water Buffalo and Friends act. They got Banjo from Tim and Patty Rivers. The act also includes a water buffalo named Harley and a zorse (zebra/horse cross) named Zorro.
Kuhn, who was born in Pennsylvania, “where all the cowboys come from,” said he came to Florida one winter as a teenager to “do some rodeos” and wound up helping some folks with some misbehaving horses “and I never left Ocala.”
Kuhn, who has a lengthy background in rodeos, also is an expert at trick riding and roping, and does some fancy gun spinning. He said that over many years of performing in rodeos and western entertainment, he found that crowds really responded to the acts that included Banjo, Harley and Zorro.
“I’m not trying to act like I’m ‘Mr. Awesome’—I want to show these awesome animals off. Both of these water buffalo, if we didn’t have them, they’d be taxidermy somewhere,” he noted. “They’re very trainable.”
He said that as part of the act, the announcer will tell the audience about the history of cowboys and “how the West was won and talk about the tools of the trade.”
“Then I ride out and shoot balloons, spin a six-gun on my finger and trick rope,” he said. “Then we go into the water buffalo and end with the zebra horse. It’s kind of a summary of all the cowboy stuff and then you bring out something nobody expects. That way it gives a glimpse of everything you’ve ever seen and a little of everything you’ve never seen.”
In his real job, Kuhn trains horses for others.
“When they import horses that are quarantined, they just paid a lot of money but maybe have never ridden themselves, I go and ride it the first few times and sometimes start them or if they have a problem, or they are out of town, some of them I ride a few times a month, some a couple of times a year,” he explains.
As for asking an animal to perform, he offers, “A lot of people try to get a horse to think like them and it’s easier to figure out how a horse thinks. Go back to the idea that they are a herd animal, a pack animal. Sometimes, you just need to simple it up a little bit.”
Like Kuhn, the others have busy lives beyond show business. Clay is homeschooled; his dad shoes horses; Julie shows dogs in confirmation, rally and agility; Callie Sue owns a hair salon; and Rivers is an NRA certified instructor.
Rivers is named for the Elvis Presley character of the same name in the motion picture “Loving You.” He even sports a Presley trademark “TCB (Taking Care of Business) in a Flash” lightning bolt logo tattooed on one arm.
He also has an extensive background in trick western performing, stunt work in movies and television, and in rodeos as well as at specialty events such as sponsor conventions. His list of awards and titles is lengthy and impressive.
“There are probably eight people in the world, and I’m one of them, that are at the skill level of what I do with fast draw and trick shooting,” he said. “I do fancy gun handling. I’ve helped some actors and stuff like that. Sometimes they need a real cowboy to come in to show them how to ride a horse, how to dress, and how to use a gun. That’s where people like me and him,” he said while pointing to Kuhn, “come in.”
Born in Missouri, Rivers also is a third-generation performer, and his family knew the Edwards family in South Florida.
Rivers now lives in Ocala but, like the others, frequently travels to perform. As for the complexity involved in his show, he said, “You need to be comfortable with your skill level: beginner or pro. If you are wondering what your horse is doing, you probably shouldn’t take a handgun and go out and do a speed event. Get comfortable on your horse first, then it’s a lot of fun.”
Catch Them in Action
Shane, Julie and Clay Karson will be performing a Wild West Show at the Coon Hollo Fall Festival near McIntosh on weekends from Oct. 6-Nov. 5.
“We will showcase Roman riding, trick riding, beginning trick, the Amazing Amigo and other surprise acts,” said Julie Karson. “We’ll do a little comedy. It’s a lot of fun for families, very family oriented.”
On Oct. 14, starting at 2 p.m., Banjo the Water Buffalo and Friends will perform during the third annual Chad Smith Frontier Days and Extreme Team Challenge event at Williston Horseman’s Park in Williston. The event is a fundraiser for Smith, a bull rider who was seriously injured several years ago. On Oct. 20, Kuhn and his Andulasian mare Krystal will perform in the Iberian Horse Spectacular at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala.
For details about the Coon Hollo Fall Festival, go to coonhollo.com
To learn more about the Chad Smith Frontier Days and Extreme Team Challenge, go to bit.ly/3ZvOu2Q
For information about about the Iberian Horse Spectacular, visit bit.ly/48vIGKz