When I was a little girl, I was horse crazy. I tossed aside Barbies after doing their hair a few different ways but hoarded My Little Ponies, Breyer and Grand Champion model horses while consuming every horse related book I could get my hands on. I couldn’t pinpoint for you what exactly it was that drew me to them. They’re fast and strong and beautiful and free, somehow, always with the wind in their manes. Whatever it was, I loved them, and getting the chance to go to Tempel Farms last week while they prepared for their season opener was a thrill.
On the face of it, what Tempel Farms presents is the “dancing horses” but in fact what they present is a living piece of history. The type of riding and the breed of horses are rare enough to be an honor enjoyed by presidents, and to engender a World Heritage designation. Tempel is dedicated to breeding and protecting these rare animals, as well as the style of riding that they so excel at. The intricate dances performed by these incredibly intelligent animals were initially battle exercises meant to preserve the life of both horse and rider in the throes of combat. You may have seen horses racing, jumping, even performing acrobatic tricks – they’re intelligent, responsive animals – but a trip to Tempel is something truly unique.
Performances at Tempel happen either in a small but beautiful outdoor arena, with seating on either side as well as special sectioned off areas for handicapped and VIP visitors, or in their indoor arena, depending on weather. The show is presented as an interactive opportunity to learn more about what you’ll see, and though the audio can be unreliable/bracingly loud, it’s full of interesting information on the individual segments as well as the individual movements that the riders and their horses will perform.
To open the show, Tempel released all of their adorable baby horses into the ring, which was predictably chaotic, as they ran, jumped and nipped at each other. That said, it’s a real crowd pleaser. As the show progresses, it moves chronologically through the training of the stallions. There’s carriage driving, long rein segments and individual solos as well as classic routines like the pas de troix.
One of the most exciting pieces of the show is the much anticipated “Airs Above Ground” segment. This, essentially, is the main event. Lipizzan are bred for it, and train for years to attain the ability to do this, along with their riders. It is truly fantastic to see. It’s not a simple leap or pose, and pictures hardly do it justice. It’s an animal weighing in at over a thousand pounds (in most cases) suddenly seeming light as air, suspended above ground, with a balletic precision- hooves perfectly in synchronization. You can see the concentration on the faces of the horse and rider, yet it seems effortless at the same time. The horses are able to balance on their back hooves as if weighing nothing while maintaining a beautiful form you recognize mainly from carousels.
The finale of the show is in true Spanish Riding School style. It’s known as the quadrille, or the Ballet of the White Stallions and involves four horses and riders performing beautifully choreographed movements and completing complicated pass-throughs while displaying everything that they’ve learned in coordination. This is a routine that’s truly a privilege to see, and has been a feature of six presidential inaugurations and the US bicentennial.
After the show, visitors are invited to take pictures with the horses and riders, as well as tour the performance barns, where several of the show’s steeds are available for nose pets and even a few carrots here and there.
Passion wins the day in performance arts, and it’s really the heartbeat of everything done at Tempel Farms. Riders dedicate 8 hours a day to learning their craft over years, while breeders work to carefully preserve the bloodlines and handlers and caretakers alike do everything from wash and brush each horse to muck out their stalls. Everyone I encountered loved what they did and had a genuine affection for all of the animals they work with and their individual personalities. It’s that bond and communication that makes beautiful art, and that’s what you’ll see when you visit. If you’d like to take a trip out to Tempel Farms for a show, check out their show calendar here and purchase tickets here. It will be time well spent for an experience you won’t see anywhere else in the US.