It's been said that the Lipizzaner stallion is to horses what the Stradivarius is to the violin. But since Lipizzaners move with grace, precision and strength, a better comparison might be to world-class dancers such as Baryshnikov, Astaire and Nureyev.
On Saturday, the fabled stallions will dance their way into Intrust Bank Arena for a show that will demonstrate why they are described in such glowing terms.
Here are 10 facts worth knowing about the horses:
1. Lipizzaners are trained for years before they are allowed to perform, says show producer Gary Lashinsky. They usually begin their training at about 4 years of age, and it takes six to eight years to train them fully. They live long lives, sometimes into their mid-30s, he said.
2. Most Lipizzaners are born black and gradually turn white or light in color over six to 10 years.
3. The horses are paired with trainers who remain with them for most if not all of their years of training and performing, Lashinsky says. "They have a trust, confidence and closeness that is established over many years," he says. Trainers may be male or female.
4. The Lipizzaner is one of the rarest horse breeds in the world, with only 3,000 purebloods in existence. "It's an extremely unique breed originally bred for war and reserved for aristocracy, noblemen and royalty," Lashinsky says.
5. Most of the horses used in the Lipizzaner show were bred at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria. Lipizzaners descend from a royal stud farm established in Lipizza by Archduke Karl of Austria around 1600.
6. One of the highlights of a Lipizzaner show is called "airs above the ground." It is a series of difficult movements reserved only for the most athletic and highly trained horses, Lashinsky says. At one point in the maneuver, the horse will leap into the air with his forelegs drawn to his chest while kicking his hind legs back dramatically. All of his feet remain off the ground.
7. Other maneuvers in a typical show include a pas de deux, in which two horses perform a mirror-image dance, and the grande quadrille, a ballet of six to eight horses and their riders.
8. Tradition dictates that all horses in a Lipizzaner show are stallions. Fourteen horses will perform Saturday, including one Andalusian (the forefather of the Lipizzaner) and one black Dutch Friesian horse.
9. The regimen of training Lipizzaner stallions is based on the art of dressage, in which the horse and rider work in harmony as one to create the perfect gait, cantor, trot or walk.
10. The 1963 Walt Disney movie "The Miracle of the White Stallions" depicted the successful effort by Gen. George S. Patton to save the Lipizzaners from certain extinction at the end of World War II. At that time, there were only about 200 Lipizzaners left in the world.