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Famed Lipizzan horses in Buxton for three shows

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Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2012 9:44 am

BUXTON- Munching hay Monday in paddocks, the horses at a Buxton farm suddenly raised their heads, perked up their ears and, almost in unison, whinnied with excitement as a caravan of trucks still far off rolled into the driveway.

Horses that had ignored other vehicles arriving earlier seemed to sense something special. One horse even placed a foot on a paddock gate, getting a leg up for a better view.

Their instincts were on target. Herrmanns’ Royal Lipizzan Stallions had arrived at Hearts & Horses Farm, 63 Justin Merrill Road. The famed white stallions will perform three shows in an indoor arena at the farm this weekend.

“It’s going to be pretty cool,” said a jubilant Stephanie Keene, who owns Hearts & Horses Farm with her husband, Ethan Owens.

One-third of ticket proceeds from the three shows will benefit scholarships for those with disabilities enrolled in a program in the Hearts & Horses Therapeutic Riding Center.

Herrmanns’ white stallions are the original Lipizzan stallions of Austria that trace their lineage to the 16th century. The breed was established for use by a royal family in Austria.

The white stallions were rescued during World War II – their story is the subject of a Walt Disney movie, “Miracle of the White Stallions.”

The Lipizzan stallions have toured the United States for  years.

“This has been in my family for 300 years,” Gabriella Herrmann said, as 14 of her white stallions were unloaded from four trailers Monday at Hearts & Horses. She raises the stallions at her 200-acre farm in Florida.

The public attending shows in Buxton will have an opportunity to visit the stallions up close.

The horses are renown for their precise, balletic performance. According to their website description, “the Herrmanns’ Lipizzans present a widely varied program. Classical dressage on long lines (the first step in dressage training after the old European tradition) and an exquisite Pas de Trois (wherein three stallions are presented in a drill of balletic grace and precision) combined with the dramatic and difficult Airs Above the Ground to form the basis of the first half of the Lipizzans’ presentation. Exceptionally difficult maneuvers such as the Courbette, the Capriole and the Levade, all highly refined leaps performed only by stallions of great strength, intelligence and endurance are included in the celebrated Airs Above the Ground.”

As a child, Stephanie Keene saw the white stallions perform in Portland.

“I took Stephanie to a show at the civic center when she was 8 years old,” her mother, Shirley Keene of Buxton, said Monday. “That was peak horse stuff, a girl 8 years old – you can imagine.”

Herrmann said that while the horses perform in the bigger venues, people have far more access in smaller venues.

“We invite people to see the horses,” Herrmann said.

Shirley Keene was among several people standing by for Monday’s arrival. Excitement built while awaiting arrival of the famed horses.

Student riders at Hearts & Horses “are dying to see them,” Stephanie Keene said, and those boarding horses at the farm are “spreading the word” that their horse is at the farm where the Lipizzans would be stabled.

Courtney Fitz, a freshman at Gorham High School this fall who finished eighth overall in a national horse show this summer, anxiously waited for the 1 p.m. arrival.

“Cool,” she said.

Stephanie Keene has been preparing for the white stallions and the shows for months. The royal stallions are stabled at the farm and their entourage of 12 riders and handlers accompanying them will stay in RVs.

Besides the white stallions, the show arrived with several pets including dogs, cats, a snake and a parrot.

The accommodations at Hearts & Horses didn’t necessitate the show’s personnel assembling portable stalls, two tents and an outside arena. A cheer went up when the crew learned facilities were available under one roof at the farm.

“It’s very exciting when we don’t have to set up,” said Kelsey Massie-DeVito of Ashville, N.C., one of the riders in the show.

Stephanie Keene said her day routinely starts at 5 a.m., feeding the 38 horses at the farm. Preparing for the Lipizzan horses, she has been extra busy of late. Keene has overseen all details, including even ordering the portable bathrooms for the audiences.

Bleachers with 500 seats are coming in from the town of Scarborough and the show arena will be accessible for those using wheelchairs.

Because the show is inside, weather won’t be a problem.

Herrmanns’ will provide concessions including hot dogs, snow cones, lemonade, water, soda and carrots to feed the stallions. Souvenirs available include jewelry and T-shirts.

Massie-DeVito, who graduated high school this spring, has spent the summer with the show, joining it at Herrmann’s farm in Florida.

“It’s been tremendous,” Massie-DeVito said. “I’ve learned so much.”

Delaying going to college, Massie-DeVito knows the horses like a book – their heights and individual traits. She said the horses are fed five times daily.

She said all the stallions have distinct personalities, and horses and staff have a mutual respect for one another.

Therapeutic riding and caring for horses can positively affect the lives of people with disabilities. Keene said the youngest in their therapeutic program is a 22-month-old who never learned to crawl and had no speech. But after joining the program, the baby is progressing and starting to vocalize.

The oldest of the 80 riders in the therapeutic program is 78 and is recovering from a stroke.

Keene said the opportunity to host the Lipizzans began when a visitor spotted the Hearts & Horses sign and drove in.

“Have you heard of the Lipizzans?” Keene recalled the visitor saying. “I can put you in touch with them.”

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