Col. Ottomar Herrmann stroked his burly mustache and cracked his whip as he coached five white Lippizan stallions leaping about the commons outside the State Fairgrounds Coliseum on Tuesday.
"That's perfect, good, beautiful, beautiful," Herrmann said, his rich voice thick with an Austrian accent.Herrmann is in Salt Lake City with his troupe of 18 Royal Lippizan Stallions, which will perform at the Utah State Fairgrounds Coliseum at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. April 28.
The performance won't be your proverbial pony show, the colonel will tell you. Historically, the stallions have performed before royalty for centuries, and still attract huge crowds today.
The horses are famous for executing stunning aerial maneuvers with riders sitting gracefully on the stallions' saddles.
The Lippizan stallions' ancestors were first trained as war horses in 400 B.C. by Xenophon the Greek. The beasts were trained for war and were known for risking their lives to protect their riders.
Herrmann was instrumental in bringing the stallions safely from Russian territory at the end of World War II when he, with the assistance of Gen. George Patton, escorted the horses to Allied territory.
"I believe the Russian army would not have given us the horses," Herrmann said.
Fearing the stallions would be exterminated forever, Herrmann and Patton's Third Army rode 200 kilometers into Russian territory to fetch the horses.
Herrmann has since built a horse ranch in Florida where he and a staff train and care for the animals.
"My horses are my children," he said, adding that he is rarely strict with them. Gentle and persistent training with the animals teaches them to "behave like gentlemen," he said.
"You should never break a horse," he advised. "The most important point is that you love your horse."
Herrmann, dressed in a green wool tailored suit and velvet hat and sporting a thick gray mustache, stood with a whip as five horses demonstrated their talents for reporters Tuesday.
The riders gave commands in French, German and English, and with coaxing from Herrmann the beasts jumped high in the air and balanced stoically on their hind legs.
The stallions, brought to Salt Lake City in special buses, are "not circus horses," Herrmann said. On the contrary, the horses are performers "au naturel," having been born with inbred acrobatic talent.
The horses will be performing at the coliseum quite by accident, fair officials said. Herrmann had called fair offices to ask if he could put up his stallions for a rest in the fairgrounds barns as he traveled from Phoenix to Vancouver, Canada.
Pam Jenks, a fairgrounds administrator, invited the the troupe to perform. The group consented, and on short notice fair officials promoted the group's arrival and scheduled Thursday's performances.
Tickets are available at all Smith's Tix locations and cost $7 for adults and $4 for children 6-12 years old. Tickets at the door will cost $8 for adults and $5 for children.