Enjoying Vienna’s Lipizzaner horses at the Spanish Riding School

I love the elegant city of Vienna.  It’s one of my favourite European destinations. Despite having lived there many years ago and having visited frequently over the years, it was only on a recent visit that I finally got to a performance at the Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule).

The Spanish Riding School is housed within Vienna’s Hofburg. The beautiful Lipizzaner horses and their skilful riders perform daily (except Mondays) and  tickets for the performances can be booked in advance on-line.

Before or after the performance, you can cross the street and peek in at the stables of the Lipizzaner. These horses have been bred for Vienna since 1580 when Habsburg Archduke Charles II founded the imperial stables, in what is now Slovenia.  In 1920, following the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the imperial stud was established in Piber, just west of the city of Graz. The Lipizzaner you are seeing today can all have their bloodlines traced back more than four hundred years to the original Habsburg stables.

The Winter Riding School performing hall is truly spectacular. It was built in 1735 and it is here that daily performances are held. Ticket prices are fairly steep, but I was in Vienna with my children, who love to ride. I thought it would be a special treat for them to see the performance. In the end, I ended up being just as enthusiastic. It’s wonderful to be seated in this stunning hall,  watching the horses and riders undertaking their elegant “ballet” performance set to classical music. Before the fall of the Habsburg Empire, these performances were only viewed by honoured guests of the Court.

Interesting commentary in German and English follows each segment of the performance. Spectators learn how the carefully selected riders begin their careers  at the Spanish Riding School and how the knowledge of this imperial tradition is passed on orally from more experienced, Master riders to their young pupils. Those students, upon reaching Master rider status, must also be prepared to instruct the younger generation.

Each junior rider is eventually put in charge of a young horse and is responsible for the horse’s care and training.

Photo courtesy equisearch.com

The performance is fascinating to watch – the riders and their horses carrying out precision movements to the music of Mozart and Strauss. The horses’ jumps, pirouettes, courbettes and intricate steps are truly impressive to experience.

Photo courtesy lobelinepr.com

My tip is to take in a performance of the Austrian Lipizzaner on your next visit to Vienna. It’s the only riding school of its kind in the world and it’s a true pleasure to experience a performance of this imperial tradition still going strong after 430 years.

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