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 policy here.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 to The 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 the levade seen above. The levade 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, see A 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 in tours 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…
Leave a Reply - I Love Comments!
These schools much like the ones in France are so beautiful! The history and austerity is awe inspiring. The horses are gorgeous and I am always impressed with the riders. Since I don’t ride horses I am extra impressed with the talent of others!
Hi Andi-Yes, I’m so impressed with the riders too and the horses. It’s just so amazing and I’m not a rider either (I mean I ride them when I travel, but I’m not a “rider”) so it’s always so fascinating to me. Thanks for reading! 🙂
Judy Howell says
These horses are beautiful! Would love to see a performance!
They are amazing!! I was blown away! Thanks for reading 🙂
He’s so beautiful and sweet!! How cool for you. I have heard of the Lipizzaner stallions in Austria although we didn’t get a chance to see a show when we were in Vienna. We only had about 24 hours in the city though. Maybe next time!
Hi Sarah-Yes, next time you visit Vienna you must see the Lipizzaners! They are beautiful and very talented. Thanks for reading! 🙂
Jenn and Ed Coleman says
The animal husbandry bloodlines amaze me. I couldn’t imagine a 450 year lineage tracing back to eight original stallions. I can only imagine the extreme research the breeders must do before deciding on pairs. Dancing horses to Mozart sounds like a great way to experience Vienna.
Hi Jenn and Ed-I know, right? It was hard for me to wrap my head around too! And it was absolutely a great way to experience Vienna! Lipizzaners and Mozart-it just doesn’t get “more Vienna” than that! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Janiel Green says
This article was so so sweet! I could literally FEEL the love and joy that you had for this sweet horse. I even got teary eyed when you said that he gave you kisses!!! What was even more surprising is that there was a female trainer! Ah, I just love horses, I miss riding them, and really love how many memories this brought back. Although I don’t know if I would have a courage to jump that high though, lol!
Hi Janiel-Oh I definitely wouldn’t have the courage to jump that high! They are truly amazing riders and amazing horses. I had never been kissed and nuzzled by a horse before so it was pretty special! The kisses and the ears-he was SO cute! Thanks for reading! 🙂
I never thought about going to one of these schools in Europe and check out a performance (or preparations for an performance). I am from a farming–horse background and I can tell by the photos, those horses are in fantastic condition and are stunning. Really glad you enjoyed your experience here. 🙂
Hi Danik-I thoroughly did. They are absolutely amazing! If you have a horse background, I HIGHLY recommend checking them out. You would love it!! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Jerry and Fiona says
Ground-zero for the Lipazzaners! We saw them perform about 10 years ago in Portland,Maine and know how special they are. This is the ultimate way to see them and learn more about them!
Hats off to Hannah for being the first female rider.
Hi Jerry and Fiona-Yes, Hannah is really cool! She is so skilled as are the horses. It was just an amazing experience all around. Thanks for reading! 🙂
The. Holidaymaker says
Thanks for sharing, I wasn’t aware of the history and it offers such a different experience, especially those who have a real passion for horses. The show looked beautiful and interesting to watch.
Hi! Yes it was a different experience and a totally unique one. Both the horses and the riders are so talented. Thanks for reading! 🙂
annie pye says
I have luckily seen many performances in 69 years from Wels to Vienna.
The most wonderful experience for horse lovers and a super place to study for
can’t recommend thus experience enough.
Hi Annie-Wow, that is awesome you have gotten to see them so many times! I’m jealous! I totally agree with you-I couldn’t recommend this experience enough either! Thanks for reading!:)
Melody Pittman says
On my visit to Vienna two years ago, we went to see the stallions. So majestic and beautiful. I’m not a horse fan, but these gorgeous creatures are definitely to be admired. Cool that you went to the riding school.
Hi Melody-Aren’t they gorgeous?? Where did you see the stallions if not at the Riding School? Did you go to their summer place or another location? Thanks for reading! 🙂
Jane Frith says
I first saw the Spanish Riding School on a children’s TV programme many years ago and I was completely mesmerized by the performance. The horses are so clever! I have never seen the school perform live, but I would love to. I think you have captured here just how special it is.
You were an orchestral musician?! A woman of many talents!
Hi Jane-Oh cool, had no idea they were on a children’s TV program! You definitely need to see a performance in Vienna then, you would love it! I’m glad you liked the post and yes I *was* an orchestral musician. Was being the keyword here! LOL! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Rosie Fluskey says
You were so lucky to meet such a beautiful and clever creature! My mother-in-law is such a fan of horse shows, I am VERY tempted to take her to Vienna now. It’s a shame you couldn’t get more photos of the show for yourself but I bet the memories will stay with you.
Hi Rosie-Definitely take your MIL to a show in Vienna. You both will love it! I know, I hated that we couldn’t get photos during the show but those are absolute no-nos. I get it, but I would have loved to have had them for sure. Thanks for reading! 🙂
What a beautiful venue to see the famous Lipizzaners. My claim to fame comes from a Lipizzaners performance in my hometown when I was a child. My family went to a performance and a newspaper photographer took a picture of me and my mom which wound up in the paper. See, we were almost famous. Seriously, very envious of you. What an opportunity to meet the horses (and the first female rider) and receive a kiss from Mercurio. How special.
Hi Lance-It was a very special experience. I love horses, but I don’t have a horse or riding background. I was surprised when he lowered his head and just nuzzled and kissed me. It was so special! How awesome that your photo was taken with a Lipizzaner and in the paper! That’s awesome and a memory to have always! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Mei from Travel with Mei and Kerstin says
I must admit that I don’t know much about horses… but it’s so cool that you get to see a Lipizzaner stallion perform since it’s something you always wanted to do. Now you get to cross off two things from your bucket list at a time: visiting Vienna and seeing a Lipizzaner stallion! 🙂
Hi Mei-This is very true! I honestly don’t know much about horses either as I don’t come from a horse or riding background, but I love animals and I was highly fascinated by these beautiful, unique stallions. Definitely recommend it if you visit Vienna! Thanks for reading! 🙂
The Travel Bunny says
Hah, after visiting Vienna, upon my return my uncle asked me if I saw the Lipizzaners. Sadly, I didn’t, but after everything you said I know what I’m doing when I visit Vienna again!
Hi Mirela-Yes, girl you have to go back to Vienna and see these beautiful animals! They are amazing! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Carmen Edelson says
It would be a highlight for me as well! This really make me want to return to Vienna. Congrats on ticking sometime so exciting off of your bucket list! They are just amazing creatures.
Hi Carmen-Thanks! And yes, I highly recommend returning to Vienna to see these beautiful stallions! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Juliann Jones says
These horses are beautiful!! I would love to watch this performance and learn more about them and what they’re doing. My daughter would love it, too. She loves horses and horseback riding. I think it always make it more impactful when you watch a show that you can relate to. I’ll have to remember this in case we ever get the chance to see this.
Hi Juliann-You and your daughter would love them then! It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before (but admittedly, I’m not a rider either). They are beautiful, smart and so friendly! I hope you get a chance to see them and thanks for reading! 🙂
Kristen Morris says
Were you able to purchase tickets to meet the stallion or was that special treat? I would love to be able to meet them, but wasn’t sure if that was allowed or part of the stable tour.
Hi Kristen-Meeting the Lipizzaner was a special treat as we were hosted by the Spanish Riding School. However, you can book a stable tour and if they are there (they spend their summers in a different location) I believe you can see them, but from a distance. No photos are allowed at anytime the horses are present (both in the stables, during a show, etc) and you won’t be able to touch them. Hope that helps and thanks for reading! 🙂
I have had the pleasure of seeing the great Spanish Riding School of Vienna four times at Wembley Arena on their regular visit t Britain . Watching the highly trained horses is really a breathtaking experience hence that is why I have seen it four times. In September i have a few days in the beautiful city of Vienna. I hope to visit the Spanish Riding school in its home.
After going to Vienna and not seeing the Spanish Riding School is like going to New York and not seeing the statue of liberty
or like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. Or traveling to India and not seeing the Taj Mahal.
Hi Paul-I totally understand what you’re saying and I hope you get to visit when you are in Vienna this time around. Thanks for reading! 🙂