After death of family matriarch, Herrmann's Royal Lipizzan Stallions survives in Myakka City.
It's the mornings, in the barn, when Rebecca and Sydney McCullough miss her the most.
Gabby Herrmann, the matriarch of Herrmann's Royal Lipizzan stallions who died last March, would join her daughter and granddaughter there each day to care for the horses.
Gabby, who had run the family business since 2004, would exchange small talk with them, but it was more a work environment than a gab fest.
Sydney, who is 13 now, said there was some girl talk, but mostly it was about family time together working toward a goal.
That goal is to keep the Royal Lipizzan stallion breed alive at a time when numbers are shrinking. In 2012, just over 1,700 Lipizzans were registered in the U.S. About 11,000 were registered throughout the world.
Austria's Col. Ottomar Herrmann Jr., moved to Myakka City in 1962, bringing a selection of Royal Lipizzan stallions with him. Since that time, the Herrmann family has offered shows to the public to showcase the breed's talent of performing "above the ground."
When Gabby Herrmann died, the responsibility passed to Rebecca McCullough, who oddly enough had ditched the family ranch as a teen because running such a business was not her cup of tea. At 30, and after a divorce, McCullough returned because she was "born to ride."
Even so, she didn't consider running the entire operation, which suddenly became a reality.
"Putting everything together, it's been a lot," McCullough said. "It's been overwhelming. Now I have to do the advertising, … the promoting. It's been a massive learning curve. She did all that."
Gabby Herrmann also did the books. McCullough sat down and went through those books.
"It was a little bit of a shock," she said. "It is not cheap to run this place."
McCullough looked at the numbers and wondered if she could make it.
"I think everyone has those doubts," she said. "You reach that point. … How in the world?"
But when she felt completely stressed, the Myakka City community stepped forward. Local residents supported Herrmann's Lipizzan stallions with monetary donations to help with feeding and care of the horses.
"We received a lot of support from the people who come out here," McCullough said. "There was a lot of help right after mom died."
It gave her a chance to figure things out and put together a course of action.
She also talked to her daughter, Sydney. Did Sydney want the ranch to be her future?
"Sydney wants to take over and do it," said Rebecca McCullough, who works two 12-hour shifts each week as a medical technologist at the ER at Fruitville. "So she has stepped up her game."
Besides doing more to care for the horses, Sydney is increasing the difficulty of her tricks on horseback so she can continue to become a greater part of the show. Her mom now has to do all the announcing, which Gabby Herrmann did right up until her death, as well as riding through most of the show.
Rebecca McCullough released a rider she had last year, which left her with just herself and her daughter. In the fall, she hired Angela West to work in the barn, but it turned out she was a talented rider so she has added her to the show. She also called her cousin, Julie Herrmann, who rode in the show years ago, to help. Julie Herrmann now is performing in the show as well.
Those shows runs Thursdays and Fridays at 3 p.m. and Saturdays at 10 a.m. Cost is $10 and the ranch is located 32755 Singletary Road, Myakka City. The 90-minute shows run through April 30.
While the crowds have been encouraging, Rebecca McCullough said she needed to find some other sources of income. She now is offering an "Adopt a Stallion" program for $200 a month. People have signed up and they groom, walk and spend as much time as they want with "their" stallion. Only one person is assigned to a stallion. Before anyone is assigned to a stallion, he or she must go through an interview process. There is no riding involved in the program.
"There are so many people who tell me they adopt an animal at the zoo and you can't touch them," she said. "Here you can."
She also said the ranch used to offer riding lessons, which stopped about 10 years ago. They have begun again. Classic horsemanship riding lessons are offered Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays for $80 per hour for a private lesson. It's $50 an hour for two or more. To ride a stallion (the ranch also has four rescue horses that aren't Lipizzans) you must be 18 and over and you must be an intermediate rider.
Rebecca McCullough noted that, as always, volunteers and donations are much appreciated at the ranch.
She has increased the maintenance work on the property, created a new area for mares and has renovated the inside area of the barn.
In the future, another area of income could be breeding. She has been approached by Lipizzan groups wanting to preserve the breed who would buy foals. She said the most she would breed would be one or two a year.
For now, she concentrates on providing different material in each show with her choreography.
"I always was worried I wouldn't be able to talk during the show, but I have been talking a lot," she said with a laugh. "People say they like how much information they are getting."
The ranch has 19 horses, including the four rescue horses. All 15 Royal Lipizzans were born on the ranch.
The hardest part for McCullough has been finding people to ride in the show.
"These are living, breathing, thinking things," she said of the stallions. "If you can't work with that ... we can't use you."
Will Herrmann's Royal Lipizzan stallions make it?
McCullough said it must.
"This is our home," she said.
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