Island group to visit Lipizzans
CINDY LANE | SUN
Lipizzans perform at Herrmann’s Royal Lipizzan
Stallions in Myakka City, a Senior Adventures
destination on Friday, April 26, a significant date
in their liberation from the Nazis.
MYAKKA CITY – The white horses are so light on their hooves that they look as though they could be skating on ice, but behind the delicate dances of Herrmann’s Royal Lipizzan Stallions is their lethal history as war horses.
And war – specifically, the Nazis – nearly did them in.
In a story right out of the movies, the Nazis confiscated all the mares of the then-210-year-old Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria, during World War II, and kept them in German-held Czechoslovakia.
Col. Alois Podhajsky, the head of the school, fled Vienna with the stallions after a bombing raid nearly destroyed the horses, using a previous order to remove art treasures from the school, and went into hiding.
As the Allies were liberating Europe, Podhajsky, a former Olympic rider, invited Gen. George Patton, also a former Olympic rider, to see a performance of the Lipizzan stallions at the refugee camp where they were hiding, and told him about the missing mares.
On April 26, 1945, Patton’s army captured a German general who disclosed the location of the mares, and Patton ordered the clandestine Operation Cowboy tank and truck roundup to liberate the Lipizzans, several hundred other horses and Allied prisoners of war.
Exactly 68 years later, the Senior Adventures group from the Annie Silver Community Center in Bradenton Beach will visit a practice performance of the descendants of the horses at Herrmann’s Royal Lipizzan Stallions.
Among the rescuers on the mission, dramatized in “Miracle of the White Stallions,” a Walt Disney film, were Wolfgang Dellefont, Ottomar Herrmann Sr. and Otto Herrmann, uncle, grandfather and father of Gabriella Herrmann, who now runs the ranch in Myakka City.
The breed dates back to the 16th century in Austria, where they were bred for the royal Hapsburg family at Lipizza, but in recent years, the ranch has stopped branding them with an “H,” for Hapsburg, under a crown, and now microchips them to avoid marring their white appearance, which begins dark but lightens as the horses mature, she said.
Some of their drills originally were battle maneuvers, such as a potentially lethal simultaneous kick by both hind legs. Others resemble a dance, as the horses travel diagonally across the ring by crossing their legs.
Only the stallions perform, ridden only by women at Herrmann’s ranch, because the family had mostly girls, she said. The mares can perform the same feats, but the show travels, and it’s difficult for males and females to travel together, she added.
The horses respond to commands in German, and perform partly to a tape of the late Col. Herrmann’s voice, concluding their performance to classical music, a tradition of the Spanish Riding School.
Practice rehearsals are scheduled Thursdays and Fridays at 3 p.m. and Saturdays at 10 a.m. Full dress rehearsals are scheduled Thursday, May 2, and Friday, May 3, at 3 p.m. and Saturday, May 4, at 10 a.m. Bring lawn chairs to sit closer than the stadium seating. For more information, call 941-322-1501 or visit www.hlipizzans.com. A donation of $5 is requested.
To carpool with the Senior Adventures group, meet on Friday, April 26, at 1:30 p.m., at the Annie Silver Community Center, 103 23rd St. in Bradenton Beach. For more information, call Pat Gentry at 941-962-8835.