In the years before mechanized battle machines, horses were the vehicle of choice for the warrior. The best of the best were the Lipizzaner, strong, compact white stallions developed in Austria 400 years ago.
Today these horses still are trained in many of the same maneuvers they learned for battle, such as kicks, jumps and parade formations, only they are for entertainment purposes.
A patron may see Lipizzaners in person either at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria, or during traveling exhibitions, such as the one coming to the central Kenai Peninsula Wednesday and Thursday.
Billed as the "World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions" and trained and toured by White Stallion Productions from Oviedo, Fla., the horses will perform two shows at the Soldotna Sports Center.
"This is a great family show, a step back a hundred years," said White Stallion executive Gary Lashinsky from his Florida office. "This is something you'll never see unless you went to Vienna."
The show has been described as equine ballet, with the horses and riders performing intricate jumps, weaves and other choreography to classical music.
Lashinsky said the performance is more entertainment oriented than that seen at the Spanish Riding School.
"We try to offer a very varied program. You don't have to be an equestrian person to enjoy the show. You don't have to know anything about horses," he said.
He said the Lipizzaners he breeds are finer-boned than the ones directly from Austria.
"These are average size horses, they stand 15 to 16 hands. They're not a Clydesdale or a Percheron, which stands 18 hands," Lashinsky said.
Though they are average size, they are generally heavier than average, at 1,200 pounds.
"They are very compact, but very heavy," he said.
He said that combination was vital to create a strong, yet nimble battle horse.
The Lipizzaners are so named because they were first bred in Lipizzan, in what was then Austria, now Italy, from primarily Spanish Andalusian stock, which then-Archduke Maximilian II imported. The Andalusian, the Spanish war horse, was a cross of the Pyrenees Vilano and the Arabian, which were introduced to Spain during the Moorish occupation. The Lipizzaner, like the Arabian, has one less vertebrae than usual, creating a more compact horse.
"Maximilian wanted to create a better battle horse," Lashinsky said. "The bloodlines have been carefully guarded."
Even today, the Lipizzaner is not over-bred, with less than 2,500 worldwide.
"There is a reason why the breed is so small and kept limited," he said. "We don't want to inbreed or over-breed, which has happened to Arabians and quarter horses. We don't want to breed the right stallion with the wrong mare."
The Lipizzaners are slow to mature and are not trained until they are 6 years old. They are long-lived, though, starting to perform around age 10 and often working into their 30s, at which time they go to Lipizzaner retirement "homes."
He said a Lipizzaner colt could sell for about $25,000 to $30,000, but once it is trained to the grand prix level, they are priceless.
"They are so special and so rare, they are like a work of art," Lashinsky said. "By the time they get fully trained, they are priceless, you don't sell them."
Show times are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday for the nearly two-hour performance. General admission tickets are $19.50 for adults and $17.50 for seniors and children. VIP seating is available for $24.50. Tickets are available at Carrs, the sports center office and at Centennial Campground in Soldotna. They also can be charged by phone at (800) 478-7328.
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