A thoroughbred named Creator made history Saturday by winning the 148th Belmont Stakes by a nose in a photo finish.
Two 3-year-old additions this spring to the herd at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament’s in Fantasy Harbor castle, just west of Myrtle Beach, also are making names for themselves, in training for the next 1-2 years to lend their hooves and stately showmanship for performances in a majestic theme showcasing dressage and jousting.
Lirico, an Andalusian born at Medieval Times’ Chapel Creek Ranch – which spans 240 acres in Sanger, Texas – and Manuel, a Friesian draft and Netherlands native, are well into immersion in their new home. They’re paired with the hands and mind of Juan Lahut, the head trainer, the “Master of Horses,” locally the past two years. He stressed a key word in the process, “patience” in seeing the horses, “the babies,” through levels of “schooling” gently and gradually, and using “pyramid” approach.
Manuel is the understudy to the only other Freisian on site, Xeros, a regal, 19-year-old gelding who provides the ride for the each show’s chancellor. When the latter retires to Texas, the former will step into the limelight, flowing mane, “feathering” hair on their lower legs, and all.
Walking through the stables Thursday afternoon, before the first of two shows for the evening, Lahut, with Amanda Coy, Medieval Times’ marketing and sales manager, showed up close how each of the 24 horses on site has his own personality, and how the newcomers – each of whom took their turn in the shower, calm and cool with a stablehand’s guidance – are fitting right in.
Coy also shared a tip for passers-by of the pasture at the Medieval Times complex, expounding on a reality that Lahut explained about equine hormones that come with growth, and the need to tame and avert any extracurricular competition or aggression: If a herd of horses is grazing, those are all geldings; if only one body is out there, that’s a stallion.
Also, younger Andalusians are gray or brown and often speckled, then they turn a solid white with age, Lahut said, also citing three other breeds: quarter horse, Azteca, and Morgan – the official state animal of Vermont – represented in the barn.
Question | Just as every horse is so different – just like people – what special characteristics have you observed in each colt after a two-month start in getting to know each?
Lahut | With Manuel, his personality is calm, ... and Lirico is a little more sensitive, but at the same time, intelligent, ... and personally really friendly.
Q. | What initial adjustments and introductions set the course in the training, an investment of time, heart, trust and respect shared by you and each horse as a team?
Lahut | We work with getting the horse used to a harness,... and work to build many skills, including how to steer, with a saddle on. It’s little by little, step by step. We can’t rush the process. ...
We want to make a good horse for all the riders, the “knights,” at Medieval Times, not only me. Our job is to train horses for the people who ride them.
Q. | What are some key differences, but common traits that come to play with every horse with whom you help acclimate to the scene?
Lahut | I love the differences ... how each horse feels different, but they all have their own way, such as how they react to pressure from a saddle, and a rider’s feet and legs. Each horse: He will recognize a different person riding on top, too.
Q. | Are vocalizations part of the process in teaching each horse?
Lahut | We’re very communicative, training with sounds for different cues for different disciplines, such as with a kissing sound, ... and “a clack, clack, clack.”
Q. | Are any mares kept on the premises?
Coy | No, all the mares are kept at Chapel Creek Ranch. In each castle, the horses are all males. ... Most of the horses at all nine Medieval Times sites across North America come from our ranch, but occasionally, we bring one in, such as Manuel.
Q. | With the show schedule shifting into many weeks with two shows a day for the summer, how important a role does each horse play?
Lahut | We rotate the horses, and change them out for a second show in a day.
Q. | What other elements matter heavily in the routine to bring each horse into the mold for shows?
Lahut | We don’t ride in a saddle right away. It’s important for each horse to grow and have a strong back, legs, muscles, and teeth. They each grow with and go through baby teeth, so we use different bits and bridles when they’re younger. ... Just like when you drive a car, you prepare for a turn and are gradual, and you have to be especially smooth with the baby horses.
Q. | Seeing every horse in here, one can see just how different they all look, with individual personalities to match. What other qualities about horses bear reminding everyone just how acute in senses they are, like dogs that are pets in people’s homes, and how they all merit our appreciation?
Lahut | We don’t have a show without the horses. The horses make the show.
Q. | What preparations do you see in the whole training so each horse in the family is used to the whole routine?
Coy | We see the new horses brought into the arena when the knights are practicing their roles out of the saddle, and the horses get a lot of experience and exposure to all the sounds, ... such as the swords, shields, and screaming kids in the stands.
Q. | With only one Friesian in each show, just what makes this breed so regal in standing out?
Coy | They command their own presence in the arena, and it’s so wonderful to see.
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 843-444-1764.
If you go
WHAT: Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament
WHERE: 2904 Fantasy Way, close to U.S. 501 and George Bishop Parkway, just west of Myrtle Beach and the Intracoastal Waterway.
HOW MUCH: Plus tax, $53.95 ages 13 and older, $26.95 ages 3-12, and free children ages 2 and younger on a parent’s lap.
SHOW TIMES: At least one show daily through Sept. 10, including this week: 5 and 7:30 p.m. Monday-Sunday (except Friday, which is 5 p.m. only)
SPECIAL OFFERS: At www.medievaltimes.com/myrtlebeach.aspx, including –
▪ Fathers dine free, with a full-paid adult ticket, daily for week through Sunday, with code DFWEB16 at time of purchase. Regularly $53.95 ages 13 and older, $26.95 ages 3-12, and free children ages 2 and younger on a parent’s lap.
▪ Discounts of $13 for ages 13 and older, and $3 ages 3-12, through Dec. 31, with code SMRWEB16 at time of purchase.
INFORMATION: 843-236-4635 or 800-436-4386