Ruskin FL Thursday, March 19
The weather people reported last night that the Tampa area weather has been 7-8 degrees warmer than usual for all of March. Temperatures that would normally be in the mid to high 70s have been in the low to mid 80s. We decided to take a chance and sit outside in the sun for two hours today and drove to Myakka City.
The drive was on two lane roads, suburbia giving way to cattle farms, tomato farms, and then horse farms with scattered housing developments cropping up here and there. The destination was Herrmann’s Royal Lipizzan Stallions Horse Farm. As you probably know, Lipizzan stallions were a special horse bred in Austria in the 16th century to perform special movements in aid of the cavalry. These jumps involve long training and great strength.
The Herrmann horses are direct descendants of the Austrian horses. The background given by the web site is short on substantive details and long on a connection to the Disney movie in 1963, The Miracle of the White Stallions. The movie tells the story of how the Lipizzans were saved at the end of WWII by the actions of Colonel Herrmann and General George Patton. The movie is not the best source for historical accuracy and I have no quick access to a more detailed and accurate history. Whoever was a hero or a villain is not crucial to our day, but the idea that the horses might have died out does give some greater pizzazz to the event.
We went to Herrmann’s to watch the outdoor training session of the horses, sort of spring training for Lipizzans before they take to the road for a summer of shows around the U.S. We arrived about an hour early since we had read on TripAdvisor that most seats were in the sun. We managed to snag two top row bleacher seats (so support for our backs) primarily in the shade. My quick count indicated about 500 people were in attendance, including three bus loads of people.
My sister is the dressage expert in the family, dressage being the type of movements described as where horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements. We watched four horses performing during the show. The highlight is when a Lipizzan does one of its special jumps in the air. My descriptions are not as visually great as you may need but one involves a backward kick while the other is a straight up jump.
Since this was training also, we heard the riders talking to the horses. Evidently in competition, no verbal commands are allowed. The horses were treated at the end of each session, each time with sugar. The announcer mentioned that carrots and apples are given also but since the carrots can make the stallions froth from their mouth look red (almost bloody to us in the stands) they only use sugar during these public trainings.
We learned that: only stallions are used for the “Airs above Ground” movements that require great strength; their mares usually birth four foals before being retired; the Lipizzans live longer than most breeds, usually 35-40 years old; that the standard white coat of the Lipizzan takes seven years to grow out from the dark birth color; and that the stables here also house several rescue horses.
Ed and Chris March 19 10:15 pm