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.
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 :)
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
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
“I have no idols. I admire work, dedication and competence.”
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“.
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
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.
“True happiness… is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”
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.