Play It Again Flicka: The Vienna Horse Show Redux

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When we were in Vienna in December, we went to see the famous Viennese Lipazzaner stallions do their morning exercises. It was a bit of disappointment because the horses just trotted around the ring. You really need to have a deep appreciation for horses to spend two hours admiring them walking in circles. Neither the kids not I were that sophisticated.

This last trip to Vienna I was smarter and booked the right tickets at the Spanish Riding School. I coughed up the money for the rather more expensive Saturday morning display. Lasting an hour, this show was rightfully described as akin to horse ballet.

Vienna Riding School
All set for the drama about to unfold.

I booked expensive tickets so that the kids could get a seat on the first floor. With the high railings, it would have been hard for them to see otherwise. There are cheaper tickets for seats on the higher floor and also for standing room. It was a very popular show with people jostling to get a better view.

How beautiful is this show ring?  The baroque building the horses use as their exercise/display space was built in 1735. I did think that these horses had a day room for a building which was better than the homes of most of the world’s population.

Vienna Riding School
Coffered ceilings and chandeliers – nothing but the best for these horses!

The show was split into several segments with accompanying classical music. The horse and riders displayed traditional elements of dressage and choreographed dances.

One dance involved a stallion doing the moves on its own with the rider holding his crop hand in the air as if he were holding a sword. The stallion knew what to do with just the most gentle nudging. I was also impressed when eight horses performed a quadrille in perfect sync.

The Vienna Spanish Riding School horses doing their display
Called ‘above the ground’, there was a display of the horses who were able to jump and kick. These movements are merely acrobatic now but they were honed in the old days to prepare the horses for battle.

I was most amazed when the horses sidestepped across the ring. Seriously. Crossing all four of their legs. I was told this feat was really hard to master. I can believe it! I can’t sidestep gracefully with only two legs!!

The riders go through a rigorous training process over the course of years.  Sort of like the no-makeup makeup look, a lot of work and discipline went into making the displays flow seemingly effortlessly.

The riders looked very dashing in their 19th century cavalry officers’ uniforms. We were told the tailcoats had a special pocket with treats for the horses.

The building for display and practice of the Lipizzaners at the Spanish Riding School Vienna

Was the Saturday show worth the money? Depends on your perspective. My kids paid full attention and loved it. I know nothing about horses but was still impressed. The nice lady next to me who has owned a horse all her life was rapturous about their beauty and agility.  The ticket prices are similar to those you would pay for a top end opera or a ballet, which is effectively the quality of the performance you are getting.

As for me, I don’t think my Vienna Riding School days are over. The kids have put in a request to visit the Lipazzaner stud farm at Piber in Austria where the you can watch the horses get trained.

6 thoughts on “Play It Again Flicka: The Vienna Horse Show Redux”

  1. I am trained in dressage riding and when I saw the riders perform for the first time I literally burst into tears – it is so difficult and sophisticated what they are doing and takes many years of meticulous training to get to this level of cooperation between rider and horse. Hence, for anyone involved in equestrian sports the cheaper morning training is highly interesting, but, agreed, not for the “uninitiated”, so yes, you were right to go to the more expensive performance. Note: The uniforms are Austrian, the Spanish Riding School is Austrian (and “Spanish” due to the link between Spain and Austria through the Habsburg dynasty) and the Viennese will not be happy to have them described as German! (It’s like calling Canadians Americans – tread carefully,eek! Last time Austria was remotely German was under the Hitler “Anschluss” – something they don’t like to be reminded of). Do go to Piber , via Graz and explore the entire south Steiermark which is one of the most beautiful regions steeped in history, offering fine wines, glorious food and gorgeous old castles.

  2. Aahh- let’s not start with Germany/Austria / Holy Roman Empire and Habsburg Empire realms of the 19th century that’s a tough one and one of continuous fluctuation. Yes, Metternich was German

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