Entertainers and riders from Herrmann's Royal Lipizzan Stallions perform and share regional history in a fundraiser for renovations of the Myakka City Historic School House.
Seven-year-old Harley Johnson would go to great heights to raise money for the Myakka City Historic School House.
In this case, more than 25 feet.
The diminutive Johnson, a student at Circus on the Ranch of Myakka City, performed on the trapeze March 20 during "Horses and History," a fundraiser for the school's restoration project, an effort that has lasted 29 years.
The fundraiser, always hosted by Herrmann's Royal Lipizzan Stallions, took on a different look this year as Rebecca McCullough took over the event from her mom, Gabby Herrmann, who died in March, 2021. Rebecca McCullough, who was the event's master of ceremonies, wanted to showcase the area's talent other than just the stallions, and she wanted to to provide guests with general history of the region as well.
Harley Johnson, who lives in Myakka City, was part of the local talent, even though she never has been inside the Myakka City Historic School House.
Her father, Jimmy Johnson, nervously watched as his daughter performed students far off the ground.
"'I've been to several (circus) events and I've seen what can happen," he said.
Even so, he thought it was an important fundraiser.
"It's important to preserve our history," he said. "I lot of people don't know where they came from."
Walter Carlton, the project manager for the renovation project, estimated it would cost $75,000 to finish the project. Once opened, the Myakka City Historic School House will serve as a community center, a museum and a library.
Like Harley Johnson, Myakka City's Madison Roberts and Chloe Butler never have been inside the Myakka City Historic School House, but they also played a role in the fundraiser. The two 14-year-olds are master whip crackers who performed for the crowd.
While whip crackers never test their skills to music, the two girls practiced and performed during the fundraiser to "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by The Charlie Daniels Band. They said it was different, but fun.
Like the school, whip cracking is a skill that easily could be lost in the past.
"My uncle used to teach us," Roberts said. "Now I grab a whip every time I go out of the house."
A tool formerly used by ranchers, the whole idea is to make as loud a cracking sound as possible. While both are adept, Butler said Roberts is better because she can be effective with whips in both hands.
When the girls began their performances, McCullough noted that those whips are what produced the term "Florida cracker." Florida cowboys often used whips to control their cattle. Now the term often is used to describe those who have lived in Florida for generations.
Local rancher Cully Rowell said it is imperative to preserve historic buildings such as the school as well as skills such as whip cracking. Rowell often judges whip cracking at rodeos.
"We have to know where we have been," he said. "We can learn a lot of good stuff from the past."
Watching from the stands was Myakka City's Marilyn Coker, the former president of the Myakka City Historical Society who has worked to preserve the school since the effort began in 1993.
"I love the show," Coker said of the spin added by Rebecca McCullough. "She has put together something unique. I know this involved weeks of planning."
As always, Coker said she was hopeful the event would provide a nice boost toward the final $75,000 needed. However, she also knows that it's hard for a small community to raise such an amount.
"I believe our bake sale went very well," she said with a smile.
Several vendors circled the arena.
Besides the aforementioned entertainment and the majestic horses, those who attended were treated to a violin solo by Booker High of Sarasota junior Danae Tran, a 16-year-old who worked at the fundraiser to help raise funds of her own to attend music summer camp at the Brevard Music Center in Brevard, North Carolina. The violinist set the mood as Rebecca McCullough rode Aragon and her daughter, Sydney, rode Achilles.
The event also featured the Flamenco dancing of Tahja Harrison and the horsemanship of Jodi Fulbright, who put on an exhibition with Damascus, an Arabian gelding who is one of four rescue horses who calls Herrmann's Royal Lipizzan Stallions home.
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