This post is sponsored by The Spanish Riding School. As always, all opinions and recommendations are my own.This post also contains affiliate links.You can read my full disclosure policyhere.
I‘m just going to come straight out with it. I got to meet a Lipizzaner stallion. A performing Lipizzaner stallion! It was one of the highlights of my recent trip to Austria. In case you don’t know, Vienna is home toThe Spanish Riding School, the only institution in the world that has been in practice for over 450 years. I got to meet one of the Lipizzaner stallions at a Spanish Riding School performance!
About The Spanish Riding School
- Named for the Spanish horses that formed one of the bases of the Lipizzan breed which is used exclusively at the Spanish Riding School.
- An official World Heritage site.
- The only institution in the world in continuous practice for over 450 years
- The horses showcase the classic Renaissance tradition of the Haute Ecole or the “high school”
- Performances in Vienna take place in the Winter Riding School, a large white (with some grey and beige) hall that is flooded with sunlight during the day.
- Since 1920, the West Styrian village of Piber has been home to the famous Lipizzaners
- Piber has Austria’s only stud and its role is to breed Lipizzaner stallions who will grow up to showcase their skills in the world-famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna
- Another site of The Spanish Riding School is The Heldenberg in Lower Austria. Stallions are trained and exercised here. They also spend their summers along with 2-3 additional six-week breaks here enjoying downtime.
But first, before we get to the show…
Meeting A Lipizzaner
Around 30 minutes prior to the start of the performance, we were taken to the stables to meet the stable master and this guy!
Meet Mercurio! He is a Lipizzaner stallion who turns 10 this year and is in the Neapolitano lineage. So as you see on his nameplate, he is Neapolitano Mercurio.
Mercurio was both beautiful and quite curious. He was very receptive to our presence and kept bringing his ears forward when I talked to him which I was told meant he liked me and was happy.
Photo by Travel Bliss Now
This was right after he actually gave me kisses! It was unexpected so we, unfortunately, didn’t get photos of it. So sweet!
While we were in the stables, they finished up Mercurio’s dress with his gold-plated double-bit bridle. Everything was so beautiful and ornate and I must admit, I was completely fascinated!
We also got to meet one of the riders. Meet Hannah Zeitlhofer. Sworn in back in September 2016, she is the first EVER female rider in the school’s 450-year history!
Not only is she a rider but she is also an official trainer and in charge of multiple horses.
It was then time for us to exit and head to our seats so Hannah, Mercurio and the other riders and horses could get ready for their performance!
About The Lipizzaner
- A common myth is that Lipizzaners are white horses. They are not. Born with a pigmented coat, the foals are usually bay or black and lighten each year with the graying process which is usually complete between ages 6 and 10.
- Most Lipizzans are between 58 and 62 inches (147 and 157 cm) in height. The official term used to measure the height of a horse in some English-speaking countries is “hands”. Lipizzans are usually between 14.2 and 15.2 hands (breadth of a human hand).
- They have deep jaws, small ears and large, expressive eyes.
- All modern Lipizzans trace their lineage to eight stallions known as the “foundation bloodstock” of the breed.
- All breeding stallions have the name of their foundation sire included in their own name.
- Lipizzaners are a muscular breed that matures slowly and has a long lifespan.
- Most Lipizzans reside in Europe but there are a few that reside in the Americas, Africa and Australia.
Spanish Riding School Performance Dress Code
Copyright Stefan Seelig | Photo courtesy of The Spanish Riding School
The dress for the riders is their traditional uniform. It consists of brown tailcoats, bicorne hats, white breeches, white gloves and black top riding boots. They also wear a school saddle and gold-plated double bridles.
Mercurio in performance dress
The dress for the horses varies. The fully trained horses like Mercurio wear a gold-plated Goldzeug which consists of a breastplate and a crupper. Both of these help to keep the saddle in place.
All the horses wear shabracks or saddlecloths but they could be red and gold or green and gold depending on the exercises they are trained to perform. The shabrack also indicates the status of the rider: the director has three gold bands and gold fringe, the chief riders have three gold bands and no fringe, the riders have two gold bands and the assistant riders have one gold band.
Additionally, the horses that perform the capriole sport a braided tail that’s placed in a mud knot and secured with a decorative tail bag.
Finally, it was showtime!!
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Spanish Riding School Performance
Since photos aren’t allowed during the show, we could only take a few before it started. The lighting was beautiful! The night we attended, the Spanish Riding School presented A Tribute to Vienna with the musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Copyright Michael Rzepa | Photo courtesy of The Spanish Riding School
Albeit on different dates, A Tribute to Vienna is also presented with the Vienna Boys’ Choir.
As a former orchestral musician, I was personally excited to hear the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra although I would have been just as happy with the Vienna Boys’ Choir given their notoriety.
In addition to these events, you can find others on the Spanish Riding School calendar.
During the 70 minute performance, the Lipizzaners alternated turns with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra who started the show with a piece by Mozart.
The horses began their part of the show with the “Young Stallions” who demonstrate the first phase of training. This is followed by a myriad of exercises performed by different level horses. “The Schools on Ground” is one of these.
Copyright Michael Rzepa | Photo courtesy of The Spanish Riding School
Exercises included the piaffe above where the horse performs a cadenced trot in place.
In the piaffe, the horse slightly lowers its hindquarters to where it shifts more of its center of gravity. Its front end and forelegs are highly mobile. The horse alternates simultaneously raising its right foreleg and left hind leg with its left foreleg and right hind leg. He should do all of this with an even rhythm and a calm manner.
It all sounds so simple, right? But try reading the above paragraph again except this time, imagine each requirement happening one at a time. Yeah, not so simple now is it? Simple gives way to amazing pretty fast, right?
Fun fact: The piaffe was originally used in battle to keep the horse focused, warm and ready-to-go during battle.
And then came the famous, jaw-dropping “Schools Above Ground” exercises done without stirrups!
Notice the lack of stirrups | Copyright Michael Rzepa | Photo courtesy of The Spanish Riding School
Such exercises are thelevade seen above. Thelevade is where the horse raises up both front legs to stand at a 30-degree angle requiring incredible strength from its hindquarters. It should go without saying the skill and discipline both the horse and the rider must have to execute this move and the others below.
No stirrups here either | Copyright Michael Rzepa | Photo courtesy of The Spanish Riding School
Other exercises include the courbette (horse hops while standing on its hind legs), the capriole (an in-place jump where the horse tucks its forelegs underneath and kicks out with its back legs) and more.
Honestly, everything the horses did was amazing, but these above-ground movements were highly impressive. I see why they are (and have to be) so muscular!
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra came out sporadically to play pieces such as the Jubilee Waltz and the Chinese Gallop to accompany the horses during the Schools Above Ground.
Other components of the performance included the “Pas De Deux” (two horses performing in mirror image), each rider’s own, and ends with the “School Quadrille” consisting of 8 riders in the walk, trot and canter formations executing movements such as flying changes, pirouettes and the passage. It is performed to classical music and is considered the most difficult in the world!
Before I knew it, the show was over and the house lights came up. This was the first show of its kind I have been to and it definitely left me wanting to see more!
Know Before You Go
- For more information and to purchase tickets for either, seeA Tribute to Vienna with the Vienna Boys’ Choir and A Tribute to Vienna with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
- Most performances average 70 minutes.
- Both of the above performances have live commentary in English and German.
- If you are interested intours or exercises, see Morning Exercises and Guided Tours for more information. If you are interested in both, there is a combination available called Ticket Plus.
- Keep in mind photography isn’t allowed during Morning Exercises, Guided Tours or performances. Basically, if the horses are present, photography isn’t allowed.
- For all other planning, see Visitor Information.
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If you’re in Vienna, I highly recommend attending a performance of these majestic animals along with either the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra or the Vienna Boys Choir. Their power and skill are amazing and it will be one of the most delightful memories you take with you from Vienna!
Have you ever seen a Spanish Riding School performance before? What do you think of the Lipizzaners? As always, I love hearing from you so let me know below!😉
‘Til next time…