Monday, July 11, 2011

Visiting Vienna: Lipizanner Stallions at The Spanish Riding School

Thank goodness I made it to June's very last Lipizzaner Stallion performance at Vienna's Spanish Riding School because this venerable institution closes down for all of July and August.

LinkImage from DQFlix

The art of classical dressage is an old one, originally based on military maneuvers but perfected into something more like dance over centuries of breeding and careful training. I didn't know much about this sport or the school, though I'd heard it described as "ballet for horses". I bought a standing room ticket for 25 Euros and found a spot on the steps against the wall of the arena.

It was the fanciest horse ring I've ever seen in my life. It was commissioned by Emperor Charles IV in 1773 and is certainly fit for a king! The ring is rather narrow, but the hall reaches upward in a graceful arch with elaborate statuary & friezes all along the perimeter. Two massive glittering crystal chandeliers light the arena. After an enlightening introduction in both German and English, the horses and riders pranced out.

The Lipizzaner Stallions themselves are a special breed with Arabian and Spanish blood lines and undergo almost eight years of gentle training before they perform for the crowds in Vienna. They are white, but some still retained the grey mottling of adolescence. You could see that this is a proud and special breed, and the announcer noted they are prized for intelligence, memory and obedience. As they marched along they kept their noses close to their bodies creating a beautiful arch in their necks. Their riders wore brown jackets with gold buttons, white breeches, black boots and old fashioned wool hats that reminded me of Thomas Jefferson. The rows of gold trim on their saddle blankets indicates their position in the school. Three rows is the highest, reserved for the master of the school.

Image from Your Horse

The performance lasted about 90 minutes set entirely to music of Strauss and Mozart. (Fan favorites in their hometown of Vienna!) The highlight of the performance for me was a sort of duet where two horses and riders mirrored each other in a complicated series of pirouettes, circles, leaps and marches in perfect time to the music.

Were you obsessed with horses when you were little? I certainly was! My parents even gave me riding lessons for a few years. I also had a giant collection of Breyer horses. Have you ever seen dressage in person? What did you think?

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