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Talented stallions in Vail Friday

Ian Cropp
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyA Lipizzaner stallion performs a capriole, one of several famous "airs," or maneuvers of high difficulty.
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VAIL, Colorado ” In the world of horses, Lipizzaner stallions are the Olympians with post-graduate degrees.

And much like those who dedicate their lives to academic or athletic perfection, the Lipizzaners aren’t simply born with great talents.

“We all wish we had horses who were that well trained,” said Alicia Morris of the Mountain Valley Horse Rescue in Eagle. “What their minds and bodies are capable of is amazing. They impressed me, and I’m around horses 24/7.”

The stallions, which were nearly eradicated during World War II, will be showing off their talent and discipline this Friday at Vail’s Dobson Arena as part of White Stallion Production’s 38th Anniversary Tour. Based in Florida, White Stallion Productions tours the country for 49 weeks with 12 to 15 of their prized horses.

“Everything you see them do, they do naturally without training, but we teach them to do it on cue and developed into a classical style,” said Troy Tinker, master of ceremonies for the show. “They’ve been training for six to nine years before you see them in performance.”

Lipizzaners, which are born with dark coats that lighten in color as they mature, are trained in a form called classical dressage. While dressage has cavalry and military roots, is has often been used in exhibition for Royalty.

“We don’t know how much action they saw,” Tinker said. “But they were ridden by Kings and commanders in the battlefield.”

Among the many dressage movements, the Lipizzaners are best known for their “airs,” which require a good amount of strength and balance. In one of the airs, the capriole, the stallion jumps up, tucks its front legs under its chest at the apex of the jump while kicking its hind legs backwards.

“It was used to help a rider surrounded by an enemy,” Tinker said. “The front legs could be used as a battering ram and the back were used to keep an enemy from pursuing.”

During the 1 hour, 50 minute show, small groups of the stallions will perform dressage moves and airs, while Tinker fills the audience in.

“It’s impossible to go over 450 years of history,” Tinker said. “I try not to be a history professor, but an emcee. I try to make it entertaining as well as educational, and approachable for the average Joe.”

Lipizzaners were originally bred in Spain in the late 800’s and became quite popular among European nobility and royalty during the 16th century, particularly the Hapsburg Empire.

“What makes them unique is that they intersect with so many corners of history,” Tinker said. “There is European war history. There are ties with classical music ” composers like Mozart wrote music for them to keep their steps in the battlefield.”

During World War II, the Nazis captured the breeding stock of Lippizaners and brought them to a farm in what was then Czechoslovakia. The stock was moved to Austria, and cared for by Alois Podhajsky, a Colonel in the Austrian Army who was the director of the Spanish Riding School (a Lipizzaner riding school in Austria). As the war came to a close, Podhajsky looked to keep the horses safe from the Russian army and refugees, both of whom he feared would kill the prized horses for food.

When the U.S. forces, led by General George Patton, took control of the Austrian region where the horses were staying, Podhajsky saw his opportunity to save the horses.

“Patton and Podhajsky were Olympic dressage competitors,” Tinker said. “They knew each other. … Podhajsky pleaded with Patton to get the horses out.”

About 250 of the stallions made it out of World War II alive, although there would be more wartime tragedy years later.

“During the Serbia Croatian conflict, the Serbs came in and killed about 120 of the horses,” Tinker said. “They knew the horses were a source of pride.”

While the treatment of horses has been a hot-button issue recently with several euthanizations in horse racing, Tinker points out that the Lipizzaners are treated quite well.

“They are actually very pampered,” Tinker said.

Morris couldn’t agree more.

“They are pretty well taken care of, sometimes better than we take care of ourselves,” she said.

Lipizzaners enjoy long careers in their trade, often showing into their 20’s.

“They retire at about 21 to 23,” Tinker said. “And it usually takes more than one stab at retirement. They go into our breeding program, and you figure, what horse that has been on the road for 20-some years wouldn’t like to do that, but they don’t eat or mate and we have to bring them back into the show. Eventually they understand and let us know when it’s time.”

Staff Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.


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