The Royal Lipizzaner stallions - on their 25th anniversary tour - pranced and glittered in the Delta Center arena like a full moon casting silver sequins across the Great Salt Lake.
Salt Lakers, who could attend either a 2 or 8 p.m. show, were truly treated to a "Symphony in White." Not only did one see a fluid and graceful equine ballet, but it was set to the music of the masters: from Ravel to Strauss.For those who just love horses but are unacquainted with the language of "dressage" - guiding the horse without the perceptible use of hands, reins, legs, etc. - announcer David King explained each term. He instructed the audience to watch as the rider instructed the horse to change lead - that is to lead with the left front leg instead of the right front leg and then to change back. The stallions are so well trained they can change lead one time after another, performing a synchronized dance.
The Lipizzaners are born gray or black and gradually turn white as they mature. One of the stallions was a "youngster," easily picked out by his still-gray mane. The older horses were white, some with slight gray dapples on the hind quarters like an Appaloosa. Their manes and tails flowed like pure white silk. The stallions have rather short but beautifully arched necks - a trait that allows them to perform their beautiful maneuvers.
The show began with a pas de deux where a Lipizzaner pair demonstrated the walk, trot and canter and the ease with which the great stallions change leads. The stallions pranced side-by-side without the slightest sense of rivalry. The canter pirouette was displayed - a stallion kept his hind feet in the same place while cantering around in a circle. The piaffe drew appreciative applause as the magnificent white steed performed a cadence trot in one spot.
Next, three Lipizzaners performed together. Even watching from the front row within mere inches of the stallions, the horse and rider moved together so fluidly I could not detect the signals being passed from rider to horse.
Lead rider Andrea Spencer brought out a magnificent Spanish Andalusian stallion on a long rein, which the announcer called "the ultimate method of training horses." From afoot she could control and direct the white stallion with subtle movements of the reins.
Judging by the audience applause, the "airs above ground" was the crowd-pleaser in the smooth, two-hour show at 8 p.m. One by one, the Lipizzaners performed the maneuvers that were once used in battle to terrify foot soldiers. The most stunning was the capriole where a horse leaped high into the air, tucked its forelegs under it and violently kicked out with its hind legs. The audience collectively held their breath and then applauded wildly.
The other "airs above ground" included the croupade, where a horse tucks both fore and hind legs under its body at the height of elevation, and the courbette, where a stallion balanced on his hind legs and then jumped, keeping the hind legs together and the forelegs off the ground.
The movements were so intriguing, I was pleased that they were repeated several times with and without riders.
The show also included a wiry and delicate looking Arabian - the breed that is included in the Lipizzaner's bloodlines.
One moment of levity was interjected when a man carrying a shovel slipped onto the covered floor to dispatch an untimely gift left by one of the horses. As the audience spotted him and broke into a joking round of applause, announcer David King said, "That's Lee, he's cleaning up one of our horse's other movements!"
With a grand quadrille of six prancing and preening Lipizzaners, the show ended leaving the audience savoring the spectacle and wishing for more.