Aristocrats of The Air

By Pam Daniel Photography by Andrea Hillebrand February 1, 2010

asset_upload_file709_31018.jpgEvery winter, some of the most extraordinary animals on earth come home to Sarasota. They are the Lipizzaners, descendants of horses bred in the 16th century for the royal Hapsburg family of Austria. Legendary for their “airs above the ground,” spectacular leaps and maneuvers originally meant to terrorize attacking foot soldiers, the Lipizzans have never numbered more than a few hundred, and the breed was almost lost during World War II. They were saved from the advancing Russian army in a daring rescue led by Gen. George Patton and assisted by their trainer, Col. Ottomar Herrmann.

Today Herrmann’s descendants, under the direction of his daughter, Gabriella Herrmann, breed and train the Lipizzans on a 200-acre ranch in Myakka City. They tour with the animals for much of the year, but from mid-December through mid-April, the public can visit the ranch and watch weekend training sessions. To see the young stallions thunder across the field, their silky manes and tales flying in the wind, is thrilling—especially since testosterone can suddenly send the horses crashing into each other or rearing into the air. But under the patient, expert hands of their trainers, whose bond with these powerful animals is remarkable, they accomplish near-miraculous feats of strength and grace.

Admission is free, although donations are appreciated. For directions and show times, call 322-1501.

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