South African Rider in World Lipizzaner first
by Anna Cox
Shepherd Zira, 22, is the world's first professional black Lipizzaner rider.
Picture: Chris Collingridge. Credit: THE STAR
The South African Lipizzaners have earned the honour of being the only performing Lipizzaners outside Vienna and are recognised, and affiliated to, the prestigious Lipizzaner Spanish Riding School.
Zira said his passion for horses started when he was 11. After school every day he would go to Randjesfontein where his father worked as a groom.
“My father had a great passion for horses and he taught me all I know. His employers allowed me to ride the horses and my love for them grew,” he said.
His greatest wish was to become a jockey, but he was soon too heavy. So he decided to focus his talents elsewhere and took dressage and show jumping lessons.
His talents were then spotted by well-
While still working for Healy, Zira was offered a place on the Lipizzaner team.
His mother was sceptical at first about his career choice, but when he showed her the brochures of the prestigious team, she understood and would be at Kyalami on Sunday mornings to watch her son perform.
While talking to The Star, Zira found out that he was not only the first black person to publicly perform on Lipizzaners in South Africa, but in the world.
“I feel a tear sliding down my cheeks -
Zira says there is definitely a difference in Lipizzaner horses. Only stallions are trained for performances.
“Most stallions are cooked in the head, and put a few together in an arena and who knows what can happen. Lipizzaners are much more disciplined than normal stallions. They also have better physiques and stamina. Lipizzaners are very different -
Briony Wilde, the Lipizzaner team manager, said Shepherd had fitted in immediately. “He was a natural and we are very happy to have him on board,” she said.
Lipizzaners are considered the oldest human-
The breed itself dates back to about 1562 when Archduke Maximilian started to breed Spanish horses in Lipica, a village in what is now Slovenia. It was the need for military horses of unusual strength, loyalty and courage that inspired him to import Spanish, Italian and Arab-
These animals are characterised by, among others, a perfect and noble physique, graceful movements, the ability to learn, toughness and stamina.
The centre in Kyalami was started in the 1960s. Today, SA Lipizzaners Ltd is a non-
They have a breeding farm in Hartbeespoort. Kyalami currently has 35 stallions which are rotated.
The horses frequently appear in films, on television and at public performances, as well as their regular Sunday morning shows.