The World-Famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna

The Stables at The Spanish Riding School

The Stables at The Spanish Riding School

Lipizzaner Horses – The Rock Stars of the Equestrian world

On my last day in Vienna I was able to photograph what may be the most beautiful library on earth and the world famous Spanish Riding School. Not a bad day at all if I must say so myself. I had only seen the stunning Lipizzaner horses on television before, so it was a special treat to be able to get so close to many of them. I had just under an hour to get my photos and even if I would have loved to spend a whole day there, it was just not possible. In the equstrian world, these striking white horses are rock stars or virtuosos. I don’t get nervous very much anymore when I go on a shoot, but it felt like I was a teenager getting a backstage pass at a concert. I was so anxious to get there that I arrived a full 30 minutes early. Good thing I did, since the entrance to the Spanish Riding school stables is quite nondescript and I walked right past it… Twice.

Saddle room at The Spanish Riding School

Saddle room at The Spanish Riding School

Upon my arrival I was warmly welcomed by Susanne, the school’s director of PR and media relations and we began my personal tour of the facilities in the saddle room. The saddles themselves are all polished perfectly and the gold and brass on the bridles glimmered even in the dim light of the room. Setting up cameras and lenses and trying to absorb a history lesson is not so easy. My multitasking skills are shall we say, not my strong point. I often wish I could record everything I hear, as well as photograph everything I see. It would be a great help in writing these posts to have perfect recall of such moments, but if I have to choose one, I’ll stick with my photography. I can always refer to the printed info that Susanne gave me :)

Saddle holder at The Spanish Riding School

Saddle holder at The Spanish Riding School

Spanish Riding School Facts

  •  There are 72 Lipizzaner horses at the school
  • All 72 horses are stallions
  • The ancestors of the Lipizzan can be traced to approximately A.D. 800
  • All Lipizzaner horses are born black
  • There are  2 chief riders, 11 riders, 1 assistant rider and 9 students
  • The school gets approximatively 280,000 visitors a year
  • In 1572 the first Spanish Riding Hall was built
  • The Winter Riding School  was built between 1729—1735
Lipizzan Horse The Spanish Riding School

Lipizzaner Horse at The Spanish Riding School

REPERTOIRE of the Spanische Hofreitschule

  • approx. 180 Morning Exercises (training of horses and riders accompanied by music open to the public)
  • approx. 24 guided tours per month (duration: 1 hour) including a visit to the Winter Riding School and the stables; several times a day in German and English
  • approx. 70 classical performances per year
Looking to attend a Morning Exercise session?
Download the 2012 Seating Chart and the 2012 Programme 


Lipizzaner Horse

Lipizzaner Horse ready for grooming


“I have no idols. I admire work, dedication and competence.”

~Ayrton Senna

It takes a lot of effort and dedication to acheive the perfection you see in the movements of the horses and riders. At the age of 4 years, the horses are brought from their home at Federal Stud Piber to the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. It’s then a three year process to go from more simple riding techniques, to the “Haute École” or High School. During the first two years the horse is first ridden in a natural posture, then in all gaits, turns and circles in complete balance.

In the third year the stallions are evaluated on an individual basis and begin learning the dressage movements such as piaffe, the passage, pirouettes and to change legs in the canter. Learning these skills takes over 6 years of training. Only a very few of the stallions ever master the most spectacular moves such as the levade, courbette, capriole. These difficult moves are also known as “Airs above the ground“.

Lipizzaner horses at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna

Lipizzaner Stallions in the stable

On the Road Again…

The Spanish Riding School does take their show on the road for several performances each year. There are very precise requirements when moving the horses and it takes 90 huge chests filled with 6 tons of equipment to make this happen. The stallions even have their own brand of muesli that the trainers take with them, in order to keep the horse’s digestive system working at peak form. In one week on the road they will consume 500kg of the muesli and between one and two tons of hay, oats and straw. While in transit the Senior Stable master and several grooms accompany the stallions.

Planned tours for 2012

Schalke 8. and 9. June 2012

Paris Bercy 5.-7. October 2012

Rotterdam 9.-11. November 2012


Lipizzaner Stalion and Rider in the Winter Riding School

Lipizzaner Stalion and Rider in the Winter Riding School

A horse is a horse of course of course…

While I did not get the chance to stay for a morning exercise session, I was able to get 2 minutes to photograph this elegant rider and stunning stallion in the Winter Riding School. I would have loved to get the chance to photograph a performance or even a practice session. Unfortunately yet understandably this is just not allowed, since the school wants to make sure that the extremely precise movements are well depicted in any photos. I’ll be the first to admit that I know nothing about the equestrian world and the intricate motions and movements that the horses are trained for years to do perfectly. I was quite happy in the end to have a very quick moment with this rider. Sure I would have preferred to take photos for an hour instead of the couple of minutes in this special place, but I got my shot and walked away with a big smile on my face.


Lipizzaner Stallions and groom at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria

Lipizzaner Stallions and Groom


“True happiness… is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

~Helen Keller

One thing that struck me in everyone that I saw working at the Spanish Riding School was the sense of contentment. Some jobs are just that… Jobs. Others are vocations. It was easy to see that these people loved the horses and took great pride in their contribution to making the school run efficiently. From the grooms and stable hands to the riders and my guide Susanne, I could feel the pleasure that they took in working there. The people held their heads high and yet it wasn’t in any way vain, more a quiet sense of fulfilment. This feeling was contagious and that day as I departed from what you could very well call the Harvard of the equestrian world, I too had a sense of satisfaction and achievement.

What a perfect way to begin my last day in Vienna.

Comments (24)

Add A Comment

  1. Pam says

    Thank you for these wonderful photos and the story you included with it. Sounds like a fascinating experience and you did an excellent job! These horses are wonderfully unique.

  2. Gaby says

    I <3 <3 <3 (really do love) your blog!
    and I hate you for going to the Spanish Riding School (only cus I am very jealous)

  3. Rachel Sellers says

    Hey Ken,
    I really enjoyed this post. I remember going to see these guys as a kid when they travelled to a nearby town. They were amazing to watch. This post and your beautiful shots brought back some wonderful memories. Comparing the arena I grew up riding in to the inside of the school’s arena made me giggle to myself a little. Needless to say, my arena wasn’t nearly so spectacular. You can’t help but be inspired by the architecture and grandeur of the place. Thank you for a glimpse inside the school. I had no idea it was so spectacular. And thanks for a pleasant trip down memory lane:)

    You might consider using a mini recorder to get more info. during your interviews/tours. The iPhone has a nice Voice Memo app that I use to record meetings with clients that I know will be full of important details and requests. It is hard to engage with someone and remember or write down everything they say that seems important in that moment. I just always ask the person if its okay to record them first and turn it off if the conversation turns personal.
    Or you could save a few bucks and just grab an extra couple brochures out of the visitors area;) ha!

    Again, great post. Loved it.

  4. says

    Great photos! I used to be a groom, and it’s interesting to me that the horse that’s being ridden is only wearing a snaffle bit: that says that he’s still in training and not ready for the full bridle that the Lipizzaners wear in performance and for the advanced moves of airs above the ground.

    You’ve done these beautiful animals proud with the photographs.

  5. says

    Gosh those horses are amazing. I have never seen anything like it before!

    They look they are so loved and so well looked after. It would have been the best tour. I can understand how they wouldn’t want any one to take photos of the horses while they are in training/preforming. It would be top secret what they do!


  6. Pamela Reynoso says

    Thanks for the photos, Ken. They were very timely and I was excited when the post came through my reader as we are currently reading the book “The White Stallion of Lipizza”. My 9yo son and 6yo daughter were thrilled to see photos of the actual location in which the story takes place. It made it ‘real’.
    I, also, recall seeing the Lipazzaners as a child as they toured so they hold a special place in my memory.
    Thanks for sharing!

  7. says

    Valerie, Thanks. They are even more spectacular in person!

    Pam, My pleasure. So glad you liked the post.

    Cathy, Cheers! Lots more on the way!

    Ani, The horses are all beautiful and all have their own personality.

    Gaby, Don’t be jealous. You now have an excuse to go back to Vienna!

    Matt, Cheers man!

    Rachel, Thanks for the mini recorder tip. That’s a good point. It’s just hard to focus on recording and shooting and setting up and actually listening all at once! I am not a multi tasked ;)

    Debbie, Thank you as always for such kind words!

    Raincoaster, Thanks for the info! It’s nice to learn something from the perspective of a horse man.

    Lisa, these horses are adored by the people that care for them and it shows :D

    Karen, Time to book a trip to Vienna! Hope you get to see them one day. Actually I hope I do too!

    Rita, thank you .

    Stefania, That is exactly when i was in Vienna… Sept 2011 :D

    Pamela, Glad the kids liked the photos!. Ahhh serendipity!

    Andrea, There is always another time!

  8. says

    I spent a summer in Vienna many years ago and never got a chance to see them. Then went back in the spring with some friends and this was the “one thing” in Vienna one of them wanted to see, so we went. I am not much of a horse person, but it really was amazing to watch the practice. We did the tour in the afternoon too.

    Thanks for bringing up those good memories again.

  9. Patricia Warzel says

    So happy I found your site. Just came back from Vienna and did get to see the Mares and foals at the stable when they came to graze for one hour. Your piece on this is wonderful. I’m just a kindergarten photographer but what I love about your site is the explanations and written descriptions of the photographs. I do send out to my friends/family and fans our pictures with probably too much explanation! I don’t get any complaints so they love the little history lessons accompanying the photos.
    I’m def a fan of yours now!

  10. says

    Absolutely the most stunning photographs! Your narrative was very informative and interesting.

    Your site is a goldmine of dramatic photography. I am now going to enjoy looking at your portfolio. Such exquisite talent you have.
    Thanks for the visual treat!

  11. says

    Dear Sir or Madame,
    we are Ticketbar, an online ticket agency and offer skip-the-line tickets and discounts for attractions in over 30 cities worldwide.
    One of these cities:
    We would like to start a cooperation with you.
    If you are interested, do not hesitate to contact me. I am happy to provide you with more information.
    I am looking forward to hearing from you.
    Best regards
    Kim – Ticketbar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *