Tony Jackson admits he's a born entertainer. Put the former Pasco man on a magnificent white Lipizzaner stallion and he'll prove it.
"Riding horses is my only job skill, and I admit I'm a ham on or off horseback," he joked in a recent telephone interview with the Herald.
You can catch some of Jackson's horse savvy when he makes an appearance as the head rider with the renowned Lipizzaner stallions show, coming to the Toyota Center in Kennewick on June 20.
There will be two performances at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $19.50 to $22.50 for adults, $17.50 to $20.50 for kids 12 and younger and senior citizens 60 and older. Tickets are at the Toyota Center box office, at all Ticketmaster outlets, at www.ticketmaster.com or call 735-0500.
Jackson joined the Lipizzaner organization in 1988 and stayed for about 16 years. When his dad retired to the Tri-City area in 2000, Jackson came for a visit and decided he liked the area enough to settle down here where he makes his living training horses.
Though he hasn't been riding with the Lipizzaner show on a regular basis for a few years, the organization called him back recently when its head rider left for another job.
"The Lipizzaners are wonderful horses and I love riding them," Jackson said. "They love performing as much as I do."
Troy Tinker, the show's master of ceremonies, wholeheartedly agrees the horses are giving souls when it comes to entertaining audiences.
"There is something comforting about watching these horses perform," Tinker said. "No matter how bad your day gets, when you watch the man and horse perform together and it just makes you feel good. I've seen it on the faces of audiences every time we perform somewhere."
The Lipizzan stallions are a unique breed that dates back more than 450 years. As the story goes, six breeds of horses make up the original lineage of the Lipizzaner, Tinker said. One of the forerunners of the Lipizzan is believed to have been bred in Carthage more than 2,000 years ago, he added.
It wasn't until the emperor of Austria began breeding Spanish horses in the 1500s that the Lipizzan line was finally born. The horses already were known for their endurance, strength and speed before they were earmarked for dressage, a fancy form of exhibition riding accented by classical music.
"And it was under penalty of death if anyone other than the (Austrian) royal family tried to own a Lipizzaner horse back then," Tinker said.
Only the stallions are trained to perform in the shows today. And, there's a good reason for that, he added.
"We can't let the mares perform because it would wreak havoc with the males," he said. "They would lose all their concentration on their performing techniques."
A colt starts training for the show ring at 4 years old and it takes about six years to complete that training, then the horses perform for abut 10 years.
"Most of the stallions are 20 years old when they retire," Tinker said. The average life span for a Lipizzaner is about 35 years.
Even when the fancy prancing in the show ring is over, these white steeds still get a chance to strut their stuff, with fulfilling conditions he added.
"Once a horse retires he's put out to pasture where he gets to start breeding," Tinker said. "And many of them still put on quite a show with their prancing to impress the mares."
Jackson plans to tour with the Lipizzaner show for a while until another lead rider can be found. Then he'll return home to Pasco where he'll continue to train other people's horses for dressage and barrel racing.
"These horses are born showmen," Jackson said. "They are such giving souls and truly do love what they do."
*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org