Today was the big day – off to the Spanish Riding School. Other than Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud, Vienna is known for its riding school and beautiful white stallions. (well, if the truth be told, I think it is probably famous for a lot of things but at this point I will not go into that).
We booked tickets for the two hour training session this morning and a tour of the facility this afternoon. The reviews from TripAdvisor on the training session were brutal – “boring” “horses just walking around” “unorganized” “no tricks performed” to name a few. I figured that these reviews were from uninformed non horse people so chose to ignore them – and I was so right!! I enjoyed every minute of the 120 minute session – divided into four sessions of 30 minutes each. Each session featured 5 horses and yes, basically they went through their paces of walking, trotting, and loping. But not just your average gait and lead changes. These horses were poetry in motion prancing along the wall, loping controlled circles (Terrie – this would have been your moment!!), sidespassing diagonally across the arena and stopping for a sugar treat after a particularly well executed sequence. Each session had horses at different levels of training. In Session Three I was particularly drawn to a black horse – yes, he is actually a 21 year old black Lipizzaner of which I will tell you more later – that moved through his paces beautifully. At one point he was alternating leads so that he looked like he was actually skipping down the arena. It had to be the coolest thing until he started to slow prance his way back. Awww, I just fell in love with that boy. The last session was the young ones – five year olds, still grey and a little hotter than their older companions. The riders kept them well in control but you could tell that a couple of them would have liked nothing better than to gallop from one end of the arena to the other in wild abandon.
After the “show” we had a couple of hours until the tour so stopped at a busy little Chinese restaurant for lunch before we headed back. The riding school itself is actually part of a bigger complex so we were not exactly sure where the stable facilities might be. We walked a different route back to the school and ended up walking right past the stables!! That was a surprise. Though we couldn’t get close to them, a few of the horses had their heads sticking out of their stalls looking for their lunch so I couldn’t resist taking a couple of pictures. We were not allowed to take pictures during the morning training session (though I think Richard may have sneaked a couple) so I felt quite naughty!!
Anyways, we got to our tour and our guide was very informative and a lot of fun. He told us a little about the origins of the school and how the horses came to be. In 1521, Ferdinand I became the Archduke of Austria. Now this wouldn’t really matter that much except that he was actually from Spain and had never lived in Austria. As he had to obviously leave Spain for Austria, he decided to take his herd of Spanish horses with him. The riding school was set up a few years later using the Spanish horses which is why it is still called the Spanish Riding School today. However, it was difficult to continue to bring horses all the way from Spain, so they started to import horses from Italy, Hungary etc. Even this proved to be quite a headache so eventually, they decided to breed their own horses near a small town call Lipizza. And voila, we have the Lipizzaner!
So, enough history!! What about the horses?!?!? So, off to the stables we went. We started in the beautiful tack room where each horse has two of their own outfits, one for training (black saddle and bridle) and the other for performance (white saddle, gold bridle). And then into the stables. Basically like any other stable with a number of box stalls lining the walls but each of these contained a BIG, BEAUTIFUL, WHITE, HORSE!! Unfortunately, we were not allowed to touch them, hug them, take photos of them or in anyway interfere with their beautiful bodies but we could look at them and smell them (which to horse girl is almost as good!!). There are 70 horses in Vienna at all times but there are 120 working horses in total. The other 50 are up at their “green” home in northern Austria. Each horse will spend twelve weeks a year up north and these are rotated through – 40 horses at a time.
Now, the story of the black horse – according to our guide, they are considered the lucky charm. There are only a couple born each year and they are given a free pass. All the other little Lipis have to work to get their place in the performing stable but not the black ones. Apparently, to have a black horse in your stable is to have good luck all through the year. How do they know which ones will stay dark and which ones will eventually lighten to white? It is all part of the breeding program and I guess they know because there he was – beautiful and black and way past the age of turning white.
And that concluded our stable tour. I was happy that we were able to spend the day around these beautiful animals. Maybe we’ll have to put one of the stud farms on a future tour list…..
Translation: Spanish Riding School.
Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures or video of the horses during their morning exercises or while we were touring the stables in the afternoon, but I did manage to sneak a few.
The riding arena: It was a just a little bit fancier than the ones I have visited back home. How often do you see chandeliers in a barn?
The Tack Room: For you non horsey type people that is where you keep the saddles, blankets, bridles, bits, etc… The gold plating on the bridles is real gold. Again, not your typical tack room.
The only pictures I could get of the stables was from the outside.
The following video is an advertisement for Viking River Cruises, but it shows the stables I was not allowed to take pictures of and the area where the horses are performing is the actual one we were at today.
Thought I would throw this extra video in.