Vienna may be best known for its waltzes, operas and great architecture but all that’s about to change as The Spanish Riding School gallops into Sheffield, writes Graham Walker.
The magnificent Lipizzaner stallions and their regal riders are the Arena superstars of the classical dressage world. as I found out on a trip to their home in the Austrian capital.
They will be pirouetting, jumping on their hind quarters - the Courbette to give its proper term - and performing all manner of other astonishing Renaissance skills and moves when the 430-year-old spectacle makes its first ever visit to the north of England.
But get a trot on if you want tickets - thousands have already been snapped up for just three shows at Sheffield Motorpoint Arena, from October 31 to November 2, with only other dates at Wembley Arena, November 14 to 16.
Team GB’s Olympic and Paralympic dressage gold medalists Carl Hester and Lee Pearson will also showcase their talents and bubbly TV presenter Nicki Chapman is host.
VIDEO: Press the play button to watch our exclusive video report from the Vienna school and it’s Piber stud farm - plus show preview highlights.
FREE SPANISH RIDING SCHOOL OF VIENNA FEATURE DOWNLOAD: Get our FREE 45-minutes Spanish Riding School of Vienna download feature, including highlights from the show - RIGHT CLICK HERE and SAVE LINK AS to your desktop. It’s then yours to keep and play, on your device.
The real stars of the show are the Lipizzaner stallions, which very rarely perform outside their elegant, chandelier festooned home - an elaborate and finely decorated showcase annex of Vienna’s spectacular Hofburg Palace, which is also the official residence for the President of Austria.
And these Lipizzaners live like kings.
They have luxury heated stables. with solarium lamps to warm their muscles and magnetic treatments to ease any aches and pains. They drink only energised water, are fed the finest muesli and walk on sand or carpet to protect their hooves.
Like royalty, they are only transported in small groups, as they will be when they are ferried over to the UK, all to ensure the bloodlines are never wiped out in the event of an accident.
There’s good reason for superstar pampering. They generate millions of pounds a year as one of Vienna’s top attractions.
They all start life at a stud farm, which itself has become a picture postcard tourist destination, in Piber, about a two and a half hours drive out of Vienna. The foals undergo yearly inspections and only the best of the best make it to Vienna, aged four. By that time most of them have turned white. Few never do. And then only the stallions, favoured for their powerful hind legs are chosen.
The rest are used for breeding or may be sold to help fund the Riding School, which is run as a public company but owned by the Federal Republic of Austria.
A foal might set you back a few thousand Euros but a fully trained Lipizzaner would be around €100,000 to €250,000 (£78,000 - £195,000).
“I think it’s not too much. You have to think with regard to the time a horse has been brought up and trained for up to eight years, every day and under the best conditions. These are the best in the world,” says Elisabeth Gürtler, the immaculately groomed CEO of the Spanish Riding School.
She has turned the School’s fortunes around and also got it to break with tradition, to allow women apprentices to join up.
But there will be no mares in the show.
Mrs Gürtler laughed: “It would create quite a lot of excitement for the stallions if we had mares - we need to keep them fully concentrated on what they do.
“The show we are bringing to the UK is unmissable. .
“Either you understand a lot about riding you will be fascinated by what you see. Or, if you are not a rider, you will be just fascinated by the beautiful horses and wonderful riders. You will see harmony. This is what people who are not experts can feel.”
Rudolph Rostek, aged 38, who has been with the Spanish Riding School since 1991, had the privileged to ride one of its legendary horses, Neopolitan Nima, for the last 15-years of the stallion’s show career. At the grand old age of 35 it is one of the oldest surviving stallions in retirement, back at the stud farm.
“He is really a great horse. He was never lame or sick. He was always healthy. Yes, the David Beckham of horses,” he laughed.
In his knee-high boots, coffee-coloured riding coat, buttoned to the neck and topped with an 18th-century Captain Hornblower-style bicorne hat, fellow rider Florean Bacher, 28, added: “We are excited to be coming to the UK. You are always a bit nervous before you start, but when you are in the arena and riding you forget that. Then it’s great fun, when you feel the crowd going wild.
* The Spanish Riding School of Vienna Tour is at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena in Attercliffe from Friday to Sunday, October 31 to November 2, 2014. For tickets, priced £22 to £66, including booking fee, call 0114 256 5656 or visit www.motorpointarenasheffield.co.uk.
Spanish link is Vienna School history lesson
Austria is hundreds of miles from Spain - so why is the world’s top dressage school known as the Spanish Riding School of Vienna?
Elisabeth Gürtler, the CEO of the Spanish Riding School, has the answer.
The breeding of Spanish horses was introduced to Austria around 1562 by Archduke Maximilian, son of Ferdinand I.
She explained: “Ferdinand, a member of the Habsburg family, was brought up in Spain where they already had very elegant horses - a breed between Andalusian, Arabian horses and the Berbers.
“When he came to take power here in Austria we still had the very heavy carriage and war horses.
“So he introduced the Spanish horses. He also brought in grooms and riders. And the Spanish Riding School was built here.”
FREE SPANISH RIDING SCHOOL OF VIENNA FEATURE DOWNLOAD
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