David and I are back in Florida! After spending several weeks in Richmond where we visited dear friends and completed all our annual physicals. (We both got good reports!) On our leisurely trip back down to Florida, we visited with more family and friends. Once in Florida, we picked up our “home on wheels” after having stored it for more than a month. Now we are staying at a great campground near the town of Wauchula, in central Florida. Central Florida is the land of orange groves and cattle ranches. There are many, many citrus plantations that fan out for miles in every direction. Surprisingly there are also large open grassy grazing areas dotted with lots of cows and steers. At night, we can smell the sweet scent of orange blossoms and we are awakened by the mooing of cows in the nearby pasture. So far, we are enjoying this quiet and bucolic setting.
Since the citrus industry is such an integral part of this region, David and I checked out one of the many citrus groves. Joshua Citrus, Inc. is a family business dating back to the 1880’s. James Shelfer moved from Texas to Florida where he planted the first of many orange trees in the Peace River Valley. Tragically, he died four years later in an accident leaving behind four children and his pregnant wife. The wife kept the business going and expanded it. This farm has supported multiple generations. Today they harvest and ship not only oranges but also grapefruits, tangelos, tangerines, and a variety of jams, jellies, fresh-squeezed juices, and other products. At their grove stand, we bought several bags of oranges (Temple oranges and Navel oranges) and of course had to sample their orange and vanilla soft serve ice cream. They also give grove tours if you call ahead and make an appointment. After eating our ice cream, we were off to explore another fascinating enterprise.
The Spanish American Riding School of Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions is located near Myakka City, Florida. The Lipizzaner horses are descendants of the Hapsburg Riding School in Vienna, Austria which was founded in the 16th century. The Lipizzaners are a very rare breed of horse. There are only a few hundred Lipizzaner horses that have existed at any one time. Originally, these horses were bred to perform leaps and plunges with a mounted rider for the purpose of terrorizing foot soldiers during wars. Today they are no longer used in battles but rather tour the country and perform unique movements. In winter, they train at their farm in Florida. We watched as the stallions practiced manuevers like levade (the horse rises up on its hind legs maintaining a 45 degree angle), courbette (the horse jumps on its hind legs holding its fore legs off the ground), and capriole (the horse leaps up and kicks its hind legs out behind at the height of the jump). Watching these beautiful horses was such a treat!
During the “open to the public” training sessions, there is also a narrator who tells the visitors about the horses and some of their history and lineage. Interestingly, the Lipizzaner breed was almost annihilated during World War II. General George Patton, Colonel Hermann, and his father managed to smuggle the horses out from behind enemy lines and bring them to the USA. Colonel Hermann bought a 200 acre ranch in Florida where the horses would be protected. Colonel Hermann’s goal was to preserve and to ensure the survival of this extraordinary breed. He also was an outstanding trainer, a tradition that his family continues to this day.
If you want to see these amazing Lipizzaner horses train, you can come to the ranch on Thursdays or Fridays from 3-5 pm or on Saturdays from 10 am-12 pm. While admission is technically “free,” they do ask that you donate $5 which goes to help care for the horses. After the presentation/training, you are also encouraged to walk through the stables and “meet the horses.” We actually got to feed one of the mares.
Visiting the Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner stallions was a great way to spend a couple of hours on a warm, sunny day in February.