Known locally in Vienna as the Spanische Hofreitschule (Spanish Riding School), this home of world-famous Lipizzaner stallions is far more than just a group of fancy stables.
It offers one of the finest exhibitions of classical horseback riding anywhere. That exhibition is enhanced by being offered in a Baroque hall that is part of the Hofburg Imperial Palace, this part completed in 1735.
For centuries the school has been housing these fine animals and teaching royalty, the well-to-do, and now a wide variety of students how to ride. Visitors to Vienna today are the lucky recipients since they can watch the action.
A combination of lesson, show, and exhibition add up to sheer entertainment for both rider and audience. Dressage performed here raises this common ‘horse dance’ to high art.
Visitors will clap loudly as they watch these stunning animals and their highly skilled riders go through the paces accompanied by music. Set in a building that one can easily imagine as the venue of a ball, you’ll want to dance along with the horses.
Also part of the facility is the first-rate Lipizzaner museum showcasing many of the tools of the trade. It’s across the street from the Winter Riding School, in the Stallburg (Stable Palace). The museum, housed in what was once the Imperial Pharmacy, will easily prove that even Hapsburg horses were treated like royalty. Halters, saddles, and more are on display, many of which once graced ancestors of these white equine delights.
Among other sights, visitors will have an opportunity to explore the history of the Lipizzaner stallion. The original breed is a descendant from Spanish-Arabian stock. Later ones evolved from a combination of Neapolitan, Kladruber, and other bloodlines. The ones currently making their home here are the offspring of horses bred in Austria since the 1560s, derived from stock in Lipizza in Slovenia.
The museum offers paintings, engravings, photographs, and more that provide visitors with information about the horses, their lives and environment, and those who owned and bred them.
Born black and turning pure white in maturity, there are only about 2,100 left in the world, according to official sources. They are listed on the endangered species list.
Tickets to the show quickly become equally rare far in advance. Those interested should book several months ahead. Normal tickets are pricey, but to just watch a practice session deep discounts are available.