Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hi Ho Silver! The Spanish Riding School

Horses? Check. People in fancy uniforms? Check. A beautiful venue in Vienna? Oh yeah. It can only be the Spanish Riding School. Last person I talked to about this school of dressage assumed it was in Madrid or somewhere similar. Fortunately, it is in a much nicer location—central Vienna, right by the Hoffburg. The best hotels in Austria are in this area, so you might even get one overlooking this gorgeous piece of architecture.

So, if you love horses, it’s a fantastic place to visit. Avoid July and August, though, because the 70-odd horses there are taken to the nearby summer stables to relax. At any other time of year, you can watch some of the training sessions, as well as the performances. Book early, though, because tickets are extremely popular.

The Spanish Riding School is the oldest of its kind in the world, dating back to around the 1570s. The school as we know it was built in the 1730s, and it was designed to train horses for war. The Spanish part of the name comes from the Spanish horses that were bred to create the Lipizzan breed of horses. Other than that, it has nothing to do with the Spanish.

Fortunately for us, the Spanish riding school opened its gates for the paying public in 1918. This was because it needed a bit of cash after the First World War. The performances proved to be extremely popular, and they continue on today.

So, what can you expect from one of the performances? Generally, a performance will start with the youngest horses that are just beginning training. They'll demonstrate the basics that they have been taught, and then move on to allow the more experienced horses to perform. These experienced horses will perform an Olympic-standard routine. The next part of the performance shows how the training progresses. You'll see how they are trained to do jumps, tricks, and other stunts. This offers a fascinating insight into how professional horses are trained, and it is a sight that will delight any horse lover.

You will notice that most of the riders do not have stirrups. This just serves to demonstrate the rider’s prowess with the horses. The final quadrille is one of the most difficult in the world to perform, and these riders perform it flawlessly.

If you're in Vienna, and you want to see some truly astounding moves, you can forget the local nightclubs or your hotel bar—the Spanish riding school offers an exhibition of beauty, grace, and glamour.