Charles IV, of the Hapsburg empire, held titles over many countries of Europe back in his day.  At one time he was King of Spain and subsequently moved to Vienna, Austria to assume title of Emperor when his brother died.

The story goes that he couldn’t bring himself to be separated from his Spanish horses so had many brought to Austria where they were trained and bred at a stud farm in a place called Lipizza (now Lipica, Slovenia) which is how their name evolved.

Stallions used in performances are diligently exercised and trained each day and the stallion stays with his rider until it is time for one of them to retire.  There are morning exercises where about five of them at a time are brought across the street to the Winter Riding School (a gorgeous room where performances are also held).  There is also a Summer Riding Ring that is encircled by a large wooden construction which is actually the largest horse walker in the world!

The only qualification to apply for the job of riding one of these stallions is that you speak German, English, and are a European citizen.  The stables prefer that you have some riding experience but don’t want the riders to have strong skills as they have found that some unbreakable habits already exist by then that cause issues when riding or trainer the Lipizzaners.

The riders do everything from mucking and feeding the stallions to training and showing them around the world.  It generally takes 5 years before a horse is ready to perform in public and the drop out rate of the riders is about 80%!  Women were allowed to apply to be riders as of 2008.  A rider can spend between one and three years on a lunge line before they are considered ready to control the stallion on his/her own!

The stallions have beautiful stables in the center of the city.  The stalls have wrought iron railings and are thick with hay and other such bedding.  There are are also marble troughs built into the stalls from which the horses can eat and drink!  It is lush!  No direct photos of the stallions allowed in the stalls as they don’t want them to get upset by the chance of flashes going off!

The stallions may be born with dark coats but virtually all of them turn grey / white within the first five years of their lives.  Once in a while one will remain bay or black, but it is unusual; with genetic testing they do deliberately breed some dark horses.

There are two types of saddles used on the stallions, a normal dark leather dressage saddle used in training and for younger horses and then a larger white leather saddle used in the performances.  The saddles are made specifically for each stallion, tailored right on him, with the result that only a tiny saddle pad is needed under the dressage saddle and none at all under the white saddle which is of a higher standard.  The white saddle is also essentially raw leather on top such that the rider can cling to it well and perform many advanced techniques without stirrups.

I visited the stables yesterday and watched the morning exercise today.  I got just a few shots of the horses before they told us photos weren’t permitted!

I will attend an official performance on Friday night!

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About Sophia la Vespa

Seattle by Vespa!
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