With the late afternoon light gorgeously filtering though their silvery manes, tails, and even the whiskers on their muzzles, the powerful white horses at Herrmann’s Royal Lipizzan Stallions seemed more beautiful than usual this month.
Three days a week, the public is invited to come to Herrmann’s Royal Lipizzan Stallions in Myakka City to watch the horses go through their paces, a sort of winter training before they go on their road for their annual national tour.
The descendants of war horses whose ancestry can be traced back to 16th Century Austria, are not just for show.
They are performers.
They do a little dance, rear impressively, bow, do a kind of sideways walk as they review the audience sitting a few feet away in bleachers, and most difficult, execute “airs above the ground,” as they simultaneously kick their back legs and lift their front legs.
Several hundred spectators watched as Rebecca McCullough, carrying an American flag, rode a Lipizzan stallion named Storm into the arena at 32755 Singletary Road for the playing of The Star Spangled Banner to begin the show.
For the next 90 minutes, riders and horses entertained the crowd with a performance that while not always perfect was always entertaining. After all, this was a training session.
“What you are about to witness is history,” owner Gabriella Herrmann told the crowd.
Her father, the late Ottomar Herrmann, who died in 2004 at the age of 75, made Myakka City home for Herrmann’s Royal Lipizzan Stallions in the 1960s. The Disney movie “Miracle of the White Stallions” told how the U.S. Army helped save the Lipizzan stallions during World War II.
Gabriella Herrmann carries on her father’s tradition, running the business, emceeing shows, helping train the stallions and actively performing as a rider.
What you are about to witness is history.
“Get up, get up,” she said to her horses during her performance with a tandem team, riding one Lipizzan, and guiding a second horse with an extra long set of reins.
Each of the horses has a distinct personality, and some of that was on display in training.
Achilles, the father of 11-month old Jagger, the newest Lipizzan in Myakka City, is the stable “busy body,” Herrmann said.
Another horse was being a little obstinate, some might say bratty, about his performance.
But after he warmed up, he hit his routine.
“Nice, wow,” an appreciative ranch hand says.
“There you go,” Herrmann said, encouraging one of her horses after it had reared and kicked his rear legs.
Treats and praise are all keys to training Lipizzans, Herrmann said, as she rewards them with sugar cubes and carrots.
“Horses are true performers. They enjoy the applause,” she said.
At one time, the public was invited to the training session for free, but now Herrmann asks for a $5 donation, or whatever spectators feel like they can afford to help cover expenses. One day, she would even like to put a roof over the open air arena.
Monique Gutierrez of Anna Maria was one of the spectators at a recent training session.
“It shows us a lot about the horses and their personalities,” Gutierrez said.
Jerry Durgan, a Bradenton winter resident from Michigan, was also in the stands.
“It’s a nice show. I thought it was very nice,” Durgan said.
Winter training sessions are open to the public 3 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 10 a.m. Saturdays though April.
Herrmann’s Royal Lipizzan Stallions is planning a dress performance 4 p.m. March 5 to benefit restoration of the 1914 Myakka City school house. Because it is a benefit, prices will be $15 for adults and $5 for children. Tickets will be available at the gate.
For more information, visit http://hlipizzans.com or call 941-322-1501.