The Lipizzaner stallions—white magic in motion

They danced, they pranced, and never failed to entrance the audience at the MetroCentre on Sept. 21. From the opening strains of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 to the grand finale, eight magnificent Lipizzaner horses demonstrated their special talents. Narrator Troy Tinker introduced the stars. Beginning with the simpler movements of Pas de Deux (Steps of Two) through the more advanced stages of dressage, they moved flawlessly. White Stallion Productions presented these highly talented horses, who have performed in many countries on their world tour. Going through the movements, individual horses and riders were spotlighted as they went through their paces. Then they paraded as a unit, moving as a column, dividing, coming together, always moving with a fluidity of motion and grace that kept up the rhythm to the music. ‘Airs Above the Ground’ Highlight of their performance was the “Airs Above the Ground” consisting of several precisely timed leaps involving a high degree of skill. The professionalism was apparent in every maneuver as horses and riders moved together. These “airs” consist of the Levade, the Courbette and the Capriole. As the program states, “Only the most exceptionally gifted Lipizzaners can be used for these intricate leaps. A great demand is placed on the intelligence and physical strength of each stallion. These maneuvers were once used in battle to protect the riders.” How do they do it? The program explains, “The Lipizzaner stallion is renowned as the world’s greatest exponent of dressage… Dressage is the art of perfecting the natural gait. It is the perfect walk, the precise trot, and the even canter. Long, patient training culminates in a work of art… In modern terms, dressage may be thought of as an equestrian ballet.” A proud heritage Six main bloodlines are represented in today’s Lipizzaner breeds. The names of the horses indicate these bloodlines, so that one can trace the stallion’s lineage. The names are: the Dane, Pluto, 1765; the Neapolitan, Conversano, 1767; Maestoso, 1773; Favory, 1799; Neapolitano, 1790; and the Arab, Siglavy, 1810. The horses’ original base of operations was the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, a centuries-old training center in Austria. The “World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions” is an authentic representation of this style but is not affiliated with the school. A timely rescue These splendid horses narrowly escaped becoming casualties of war, and the breed might have been lost forever but for a fortuitous set of circumstances. In 1945, Vienna was being attacked by Allied bombers. Col. Alois Podhajsky, head of the Spanish Riding School, feared the valuable Lipizzaner stallions would be destroyed, so he arranged for them to be taken by train to St. Martin’s in Upper Austria. Elements of the U.S. Third Army had moved into St. Martin’s at the time Podhajsky had the horses quartered at a friend’s estate. Word was sent to Gen. George Patton, who was an old friend of Podhajsky. Podhajsky arranged to show the horses to Undersecretary of War Robert Patterson and Gen. Patton the next day. Both men were so impressed by the performance that Patton agreed to make the stallions wards of the U.S. Army until they could safely be sent home to Vienna. However, the mares and foals had been separated from the stallions and were being kept at the German Remount Depot in Hostau, Czechoslovakia. American forces learned of their location through Col. Reed. On April 26, the 42nd Squadron captured a German general and his staff near Hostau. Reed and the general became friendly, and the general told where the horses were being held. Later, Reed contacted Patton to ask permission to attack Hostau and liberate the prisoners and horses. An agreement was reached, the attack took place on April 28, and the Germans surrendered willingly. This operation rescued the horses from the oncoming Russian troops who, it was feared, might destroy them. The Americans took charge of about 150 Lipizzaners, mostly mares and foals. Two days later, German SS troops counter-attacked the 42nd Squadron as it moved toward the Czech border. The Germans were driven off, and a week later, the war ended. Col. Podhajsky flew in to inspect his horses. Since the Czech and Russian governments were arguing over who should claim them, the Lipizzaners were quickly moved across the border to safety in Germany. Shortly afterward, they were returned to Col. Podhajsky at Lutz. This story was depicted in the Disney movie Miracle of the White Stallions. The tradition continues All the horses performing today trace their lineage back to the six original bloodlines, and this is reflected in their compound names. While they continue to perform in the classical tradition, now and then a young stallion may take new strides. A new part of the act was introduced by Neapolitano Terasima, who danced to the big band sound that is enjoying a comeback. Troy Tinker told the audience: “You may have noticed that the horses are literally foaming at the mouth. This is considered a good sign, as it means they are accepting the bit. Salivating helps keep the mouth soft and moist. Spit happens!” He also explained why only stallions perform in the show. Aside from tradition, there is a physiological reason. Mares would not be able to perform some of the maneuvers because they have a different center of gravity for foaling. OK, so girls can’t do everything. The stallions can do everything else except give birth to more little Lipizzaners. And as everyone knows, the show must go on!

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