In the 18th and 19th centuries, the circus and the horse were inseparable. Philip Astley, a former cavalry rider, was the first to build, in London in 1768, a space specifically reserved for the public presentation of equestrian vaulting exercises: the circular arena. His success was such that in 1782 he inaugurated Astley's Amphitheatre for equestrian exercises and theatre, with a stage attached to the arena. Invited to the Court of France, Astley regularly gave performances in Paris and opened an equestrian arena in 1783 in the faubourg du Temple district with his son John. While the father published several riding manuals and treatises in England, his son's talent is very much appreciated in Paris. Established in the two capitals, the Astleys augmented their show and expanded their troupe of riders: in 1788, Antonio Franconi and his son joined them.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the world of riding was closely linked to the circus.
Antonio Franconi began his career in France in the 1760s. Initially a "showman of animals," he bought horses that he trained in Lyon and moved to Paris with his family, all of whom were riders. Astley left France during the Revolution and Antonio Franconi managed the equestrian Amphitheatre. Upon Astley’s 1802 return, Laurent (1776-1849) and Henri (1779-1849) Franconi took their father’s place and opened an initial permanent establishment. Then, in 1807, they inaugurated the Théâtre équestre du Cirque Olympique where, for the first time in France, a stage was attached to the arena. From its opening, they presented historical and military pantomimes and extravagant melodramas in which the presence of horses laid the groundwork, with a repertoire of nearly three hundred pieces, for the French circus in the first half of the 19th century. After Astley’s 1814 death, the Franconis repurchased his establishment and the second Théâtre équestre du Cirque Olympique opened in the faubourg du Temple district in 1816 before moving to the theatre centre on the Boulevard du Temple in 1826 under the direction of Adolphe Franconi, the son of Henri.