The Spanish Riding School

Trip Start Sep 09, 2005
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Where I stayed
Hilton, Vienna

Flag of Austria  , Vienna,
Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009 - Spanish Riding School

Today is the day. We actually get up early enough to enjoy breakfast.  The first time this trip!  We go to the club room and enjoy a wide variety of options, so typical of Europe.  There are pastries, cheeses, meats, eggs, fruit and another assortment of stuff.

About quarter to 9:00 we head out.  We walk to the Hofburg palace and find the ticket office.  There is no line and we have our tickets in no time, and we purchased a tour of the stables also.  The show wasn't starting for about 30 minutes, be we decide to wait so we can get a good seat.  I am glad we did, for a long line formed behind us.  We were actually the first up the stairs into the viewing gallery and selected seats at the head of the exhibition hall.  I was really glad to do this, but found myself more excited than I realized.

In about 10 minutes the first horses entered the hall.  It was a spectacular sight.  This was not actually a performance, but 4 training sessions, each with 5 horses and riders.  The riders were dressed in their official riding outfits, complete with hats, boots and long tailed jackets. It was quite a sight to watch them in action.  Once riders are assigned a horse, they stay with it throughout the life of the horse until it retires.  You can tell both the horse and rider know each other. Sometimes they would fuss and fight with each other in a battle of wills.  Sometimes the horse would perform an intricate maneuver flawlessly.  When they weren't getting along the horse would slam the rider into the wall, or try to buck or take off running.  When they were working in harmony it was like a dance. 

One horse and rider were just not happy with each other the entire time they were practicing.  The horse would buck and jump and run sideways.  The rider never lost control, but never really had control either. 

More often than not, the riders and horses were performing in complete unison. It turns out there is actually a special pocket in the back of the rider's pants to store sugar cubes.  After performing a particularly intricate task, the rider would let the horse rest.  As soon as the reins were loosened, he would turn his head toward the rider while the rider was getting the sugar cube out of his pocket and the reward was provided!

At the end of each 30 minute session, the riders would line up in the middle of the ring and dismount.  Grooms would walk in and place lead halters on the horses.  The riders would give a final treat to their mount and pet them until they were led away.  The one horse that really fussed even got his sugar too. The riders would then sit and watch the next group of riders as they put their horses through its paces.

We stayed and enjoyed the entire two hours.  Unfortunately a very chatty lady stayed nearly the entire time. She was with her husband and young daughter.  The woman professed to be a writer for an equine magazine.  However, she didn't know a whole lot, but made sure she told you everything she did know!

Her daughter apparently took riding lessons and the mom kept telling her how to do things and what the riders were doing.  The little girl got tire after about 20 minutes and the mom said they weren't leaving and to have a lollipop and be quiet.  I wish she would have taken her own advice.  However, nothing could really detract from the fantastic sight to which we were witness.

After the sessions were over, we had 2 hours to wait until the tour started.  We went into the Hofburg palace gift shop, wandered around the courtyard and then back to the riding school gift shop.  We didn't want to go too far because we didn't want to miss anything  They recently changed things and build a new café outside right next to where the horses were exercised.  They have this really neat horse walker unlike anything I have seen before.  It was like a moving conveyor belt except the horses had to walk and were separated by hanging walls.  I have a picture, because I just can't explain it.  Anyway, we had lunch there and got to watch the horses walk around.

We finished lunch just in time for the start of the tour.  We started by getting to sit in the fancy seats in the riding hall.  The tour guide explained the history of the horses and their status today.  They have actually only been to the United States about 10 times in the past century.  They take 30 horses on tour and would have not much left for performances in Vienna, so it is rare they leave Europe.  The horses do get to go on vacation though.  For two months a year, in the summer, they are returned to the official farm - Piber - in the Austrian countryside where they get to roam pastures and rest from their work.  The riding school has no performances during that time, but they bring in some youngsters to demonstrate carriage work and babies to look at.

We then got to go into the stables and walk among the horses.  We had seen a single dark brown horse among all white and gray horses during the morning exercises and saw it again in the stable.  We asked about it since we typically only see white ones perform.  All Lipizzaner horses are born black and about 90% of them turn white gradually between 4 and 10 years of age.  We were looking at one of the 10%.  He is trained and performs just like the others.  There is even a long held superstition that as long as there is a black horse performing the riding school will remain in existence, so this fellow is staying!

After the tour we walked around some more.  Window shopping here and there and soon began to make our way back to the hotel, this time by another route to see some different sights.  The shopping square was very crowded and the weather turned very cold and windy.  It was a relief to get back to the warmth of the hotel.  We went to dinner and then back to the room to pack for our train trip to Chur in Switzerland.  We will spend one night there and then it is onto the Glacier Express to the Matterhorn.
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