El Caballo BlancoFew of us have not been moved at some time by the beauty, power and majesty of the horse. These animals have helped to plough the soil, deliver bread and milk, and been ridden by children and Emperors. Some, such as Phar Lap, have lifted the spirits of a nation at a time when much of life felt hopeless. On the first Tuesday of November their beauty and swiftness stops a nation.

El Caballo Blanco is a celebration of the Spanish horse. In a specially constructed pavilion the audience is treated to a delicious meal and given the opportunity of watching magnificent and highly trained horses strut their stuff with style, precision and plenty of personality, all under the watchful eyes of Riding Master Renee Gasser.

Gasser grew up in Europe amongst a family of horse lovers. When he came to Australia he brought with him his passion for the European horse and the disciplines of the famous Spanish Riding School. He determined to create a performance that draws on many of the skills made famous by this exemplar of the European haute ecole, but in a less formal and more entertaining way that he hopes will appeal to a wider audience than just the purists.  

An earlier production, Lippizaners with the Stars, had the famous white stallions performing with the Mozart Orchestra and Merlyn Quaife. El Caballo Blanco has a Spanish theme and combines flamenco dancing and guitar with these beautiful animals.

Seated on three sides of the dressage arena, audience members are welcomed with an entrée and main course, with a range of drinks also available. Before the main course the horses are introduced, one by one, whilst the compere gives a brief history of the different breeds: the Lippizaners, the Friesans, the Arabians and the Andalusians.  

Following the main course the show beings.  Two flamenco dancers, Jasmin Lukic and Caterina Pizzati, accompanied by guitarist Valentino set the mood.  Then the full focus is on the horses, who perform with and without riders. It's hard to say which is more impressive, the combination of horse and rider in harmony, or the sheer beauty of Pasha, a white Arabian, running free and responding to direction from Gasser on foot using only voice and the cracking of a whip to orchestrate the 'dance'. The big, black Andalusians with their full manes and tails, and feathered hooves cannot help but leave a lasting impression. A highlight is Apollo, with Gasser on board, dancing with one of the flamenco dancers, accompanied by guitar. The dancer later commented that she loved dancing with the horse as he exuded such calm.

The show culminates with the Lippizaners showing the key moves of the haute ecole, moves developed for use in warfare, each of which requires great strength and athleticism from the horse. These 'airs above the ground' include the Piaffe, a highly collected trot in place which helped keep the horse focussed and warm, the Levade, a half rear where the horse is standing at a 45 degree angle, the Courbette in which the horse rears on his hind legs and 'hops' forward, and the Capriole where the horse leaps into the air and kicks out with his hind feet.  

The performance was highly professional with appropriate lighting adding a sense of occasion. Transitions between sequences were smooth and the commentary informative. Because of the intimacy of the space there is a good view wherever you sit and the various movements were met with spontaneous applause. Horses being horses and highly individual, there were moments of laughter as well when one or other of them decided he wasn't going to do things quite as was asked. But then, as Renee Gasser says, you have to smile.
El Caballo Blanco is not to be missed by any horse-lover or follower of dressage. It also offers the opportunity of viewing a slice of history, and enjoying both a good night's entertainment and a delicious meal. Don't miss this opportunity to dine with and be entertained by true equine royalty.

El Caballo Blanco
The White Horse

Date: Until 4 March 2007
Times: Friday and Saturday - 7pm entrée is served (doors open @ 6.30pm) | Saturday and Sunday Lunch - 12.30pm entrée is served (doors open @ 12pm)
Address: Burnley Oval | Cnr Swan st and Madden Grove, Richmond
Bookings: Ticketmaster7 136 100 or El Caballo Blanco 1300 365 700
Website: www.elcaballoblanco.com.au

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