- March 24, 2022
With a recording of Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog," entertaining a crowd of about 300 people at Herrmann's Royal Lipizzan Stallions in Myakka City, Rebecca McCullough grabbed her clipboard of notes and walked into the arena to start a show March 19.
She looked around a bit, took a deep breath, and said, to no one in particular, "It's showtime."
The walk in itself is odd for McCullough, who always did her entertaining from the back of a horse. Things are different now following the death of her mother, beloved Myakka City resident Gabby Herrmann, March 13. It was Herrmann who would handle the speaking part of the show, educating the crowd on the magnificent horses and their talents.
As Herrmann's only child, that task has been passed to McCullough, who admitted when she was a teenager she wanted no part of the family business.
"I was very shy," she said. "I didn't like being in front of people."
Herrmann never pushed her, perhaps knowing she would come back someday.
It was only after a divorce at age 30, and a return to the ranch, McCullough discovered that Herrmann blood surges through her veins when it comes to horses.
"You don't teach somebody to ride," she said. "I was born to ride."
McCullough said people don't need to wonder if Herrmann's Royal Lipizzan Stallions will continue to survive after Herrmann died at the age of 66. It will.
"I feel like I am being thrown into it because I thought this would skip me and go right to my daughter," McCullough said. "My daughter's 12, and she is a natural.
"But we have no intention of stopping or shutting down."
Although Herrmann had struggled with congestion the past few months she thought was brought about by allergies, heart failure caused her death at a time her friends and family thought she was doing well. She announced the Myakka City Historic School House fundraiser on March 7 from a chair and didn't ride as she normally does, but everyone thought it was a temporary setback.
Myakka City's Marilyn Coker, who is a driving force behind the school's restoration, said Herrmann told her she was suffering from allergies.
"The whole area is just in shock," Coker said. "I went to the barn, and volunteers were helping to muck stalls."
Coker said Herrmann had a big job training the horses and running the ranch, but she never complained.
"My mother truly loved what she did," McCullough said. "It was a family tradition and she loved being in front of people and speaking afterward. She would talk to them about whatever they wanted.
"Then every night, she would be in the barn, giving horses a carrot. She always was in that barn. She loved being there."
McCullough also is in the barn each night, but there are other duties she now inherits. She remembers a few years ago when one of their horses got loose in a small town in Colorado while they were on the road for a show.
"I get this call, 'There is a white horse running through town,'" she said. "My mother was going up and down the streets of that town in her pajamas with a flashlight. She found our horse, though. She was compassionate. Her horses were like family and they could feel that."
Gabby Herrmann would sit back and watch her horses for hours, seeing how intelligent they were and how compassionate they could be.
Those horses are now watching for Herrmann to show up at the barn.
"Horses always have a sentinel who watches for her," McCullough said. "My mother used to say horses and elephants are the only animals who can cry. They are grieving. One of them stopped eating for a couple of days, but has started again.
"It's tough. As in any farm family, you see that person every day."
Gabby Herrman was family to many of the Myakka City residents, who have rushed to help, such as working the barn or watering plants.
"We've had people coming to help," McCullough said. "We're country. Everyone wants to feed us."
Myakka City's Bonnie Carlton, a volunteer at the ranch for 12 years, said Herrmann was tough as they come.
"About seven years ago, they were in a procession in the ring, side-by-side and all of a sudden, all I see is horses' teeth flashing," Carlton said. "One horse tried to bite the other and missed, and bit Gabby. I didn't know until the show was over and she said, 'I got bit.' You never would have known. It bit her on the leg, but she did her work. I saw it the next day, it was a nasty bite."
Herrmann was also shy, according to her daughter, until her father, Col. Ottomar Herrmann, died in 2004 and she was forced to take over the show.
McCullough, who also works as a medical technologist at the ER at Fruitville, now is in the same place. She said the fans need to have some patience with her.
With the show almost over, "Save the Last Dance for Me," played over the loudspeakers. McCullough worked her way through the show, then greeted any fan who wanted to talk afterward.
Her mother would have been proud.