Lippanzer Horses of Vienna

There is something very graceful about a well-trained horse performing as one with a rider. In Vienna they have taken Spanish horses and turned them into an Austrian tradition, and one of the best known horse performances in the world.

The horses which are schooled in the Winter Riding School of the Hofburg Palace are all Lippanzer stallions. Originally from Spain the Lippanzer breed is Europe’s oldest domesticated horse and were once the favourite breed of every royal household in Europe.

Their training is very intense and involves special movements and exercises to develop muscles which allow the stallions to perform their intricate manoeuvres with grace and style. It takes about six years to fully train a stallion, and once a horse has attained the highest level of performance, it is given the status of Professor.

These horses are very intelligent, as it takes about 12 years for a rider to train to a level that is considered good enough for performance. Until recently, only male riders were used for performances, but women are now being admitted to the stable for the first time.

Although the horses are trained at the Winter Riding School, they actually perform at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, and it is the only institution in the world to train both horses and riders to such an exacting standard. The venue is as elegant as the performance, as it is a riding hall which occupies a baroque building that was built in 1729.

The riders wear elaborate costumes, which are based on historic military uniforms, and during shows they both ride the horses and lead them around by their reins.

The horses perform, in time, to Austrian classical music, and some of their movements resemble the equine equivalent of ballet. Their various movements have formal names, such as pirouette, passage, piaffe, levade, courbette and capriole, which are a series of difficult and classical jumps.

The most prestigious shows are called gala performances, which includes the most difficult and graceful movements, including a quadrille, a sequence in which eight horses perform a precise and very difficult routine that is choreographed to historic dance music from the time of the Viennese Congress.

The schools are open to the public at other times too, and visitors can watch rehearsals and training sessions during the day, and also visit the stables where they can trace the meticulous family trees of the performing Lippanzer horses.

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