Lipizzaner stallions bring high-flying maneuvers to Gainesville


Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 4:27 p.m.

There won't be any game-winning mid-court shots happening at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Friday. No rubber soles squeaking against a freshly waxed court, no Paul Simon and no Dazzlers.

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The World Famous Lippizaner Stallions will perform in Gainesville on Friday.

Courtesy of World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions

Facts

World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions

What: Horses perform steps, movements and dressage routines that highlight the traditionalism and classicism of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.
When: 3 and 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Stephen C. O'Connell Center, University of Florida campus, Gainesville
Tickets: $24 for the 3 p.m. show, $23-$30 for the 7:30 show; available through Ticketmaster

But there will be some serious air.

The World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions will make their first Gainesville appearance in three years Friday, bringing with them acrobatic talents, stylized jumps and in-step choreography.

“They're just ballet dancers with four legs,” said producer Gary Lashinsky.

Originally bred for war, Lipizzan horses have naturally buoyant movements, so when music is introduced, it actually appears they are dancing. Trainer David Jay would even go as far to say the horses enjoy - and recognize - the music for their particular routine.

“They are big hams,” said Lashinsky, who has produced the show since 1970.

For the 41st anniversary performance, Lashinsky and his team are bringing 14 horses with updated choreography, music and costumes, emphasizing the historical significance of the breed and maintaining the traditionalism and classicism of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.

To begin the show, a rider will walk the audience through the basic movements of steps, movements and dressage, the formal training highlighting the harmony between horse and man. The show continues with multi-horse and solo dance routines and military drills, all to classical melodies or the steady beat of marching music.

Among the new routines, Lashinksy has extended the “Airs Above the Ground,” a segment in which the horses showcase leaps and maneuvers once used in battle with a rider on back or leading by hand or long line.

These routines and choreographed dances - which is something that few, if any, other horse breeds can master - don't come without a fair share of training.

“You can't just throw a horse out there and expect them to perform,” Lashinsky said.

That's where the three staff trainers come in.

“The horse trainers and riders, we're there because we love horses and like being with them,” Jay said. “We would rather do that than anything else in the world.”

Starting to train the horses at 4 years old, it takes four years for a horse to be ready for the show but six to eight years to fully train a Lipizzan to the Olympic level of dressage - the level where most horses in the show perform.

Jay has been with the World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions since 1971, splitting his time between riding and training the horses. He traded in his saddle and riding boots for halter and lead lines in 1985. He took to training full-time but said he will always miss the thrill of performing - an experience he says rivals none other.

“That's what kept me in it for so long,” he said. “I was on the road for 14 years just for the pure love of hearing the band play and getting that applause.”

With only 3,000 purebred Lipizzans left worldwide, seeing the World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions is one of the few chances Americans have to see these white horses in action.

“People look at the Lipizzans and think they are flying white horses,” Lashinsky said. “We don't just draw an equestrian audience. You don't have to be a horse lover to enjoy it. It's just good entertainment.”

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