Spanish Riding School 2005 American Tour

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Welcome to the Spanish Riding School's 2005 USA Tour Web Log!

IMPORTANT: Please scroll down past this introduction to read the latest post; most recent posts are placed at the top of the blog. Older posts are at the bottom, and at the left of this column you will see links to the archives of stories from September, October, and November.

Your comments are welcome! Just click on the "comments" link at the end of a post to leave your input or ask for more information. Thank you for making this blog an interactive experience and for sharing your impresions of the Spanish Riding School.

The Spanish Riding School of Vienna visited America in the fall of 2005! For six weeks, 30 Lipizzan stallions and 10 expert riders toured America, and many of you were lucky enough to see a performance. It was their first visit to the USA in 15 years.

Even though the tour is over, you can still check this blog for exclusive news from the tour, information about the horses and the School, and see how America welcomed and celebrated the grandeur of the world's oldest riding school.

Ride along with and your blog guide, Fran Jurga, for web-based fun and news. Whether you are a dressage devotee, a vulture for Viennese culture, or a history buff with an interest in World War II and General Patton, you'll find all the facts and all the fun here, along with links to much more information.

Be sure to visit for news from all over the horse world and bookmark this blog (or click on the RSS link for a feed). Come back soon!

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Austrian FEI Dressage Icon Joins SRS Board

Austria Olympic dressage gold medalist Sissy (Elisabeth) Max-Theurer has been named deputy head of the supervisory board of the Spanish Riding School, according to a news item in this week's Horse & Hound (UK).

Mrs. Max-Theurer, who has been president of the Austrian Association for Riding and Carriage Driving (FEI governing body for Austria) since 2002, retired from competition after the Barcelona Olympics. She now supports the campaign of her daughter, Victoria, who is currently a top competitor on the European grand prix dressage circuit. At 19, she was the youngest competitor at the European Championships this summer and is the current Austrian national champion in dressage.

Austria must be a small (horse) world; Victoria's team mate is Caroline Kottas-Heldenberg, 23, daughter of former Spanish Riding School oberbereiter Arthur Kottas-Heldenberg, who left the School in 2002.

Sylvia Loch says it all...

I came across this quote tonight from classical dressage icon Sylvia Loch:

"Yet, amongst the faithful public who troop time and again to see The Spanish Riding School of Vienna, many know little of the intricacies of horses or indeed of dressage. They go because they are drawn.

"There is something mystical and magnetic about the dancing white stallions, and here - with no prizes to get in the way - people can lose themselves in the real thing. Transported to a world where time stands still, there is the wonder of man and beast working as one. The mutual trust, the respect built over so many years shines through the dancing steps until an almost spiritual merging of body and mind unfolds before their eyes.

"The centaur comes alive!...that vision of unity and union, human and horse, still enjoying the same exercises, the same flowing movement, and controlled freedom that has always brought tears to the eyes of all who behold the proud Lipizzan of Vienna in their moment of glory!"

From the article "Keeper Of The Grail - The Spanish Riding School at a Time of Great Change" by Sylvia Loch; read more of the article at link to article

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Did you notice this horse?

When it was time for the performance to begin, I went to my seat high in the stadium. I was surprised to be seated next to a young boy, about 10. He was antsy and didn't seem very happy to be there.

He was about to start misbehaving so he could make sure his mother didn't get to focus on the performance. I knew it would be a long evening for me, too, unless I could get him interested.

Then I saw my chance.

As the horses trotted by on the loose rein, I asked if he could tell which horse was really different from the others. He scrutinized the saddles cloths, the rider's uniforms, asked about tail color. Then I pointed out one horse and said, "What about him, is he the same as the others?"

Each time the horses came by, he strained to see the horse I had pointed to.

It was his mother who figured it out, "Is he blind?" she asked.

The little boy didn't believe it. How could a horse do all that? with only one eye?

I am still working on researching this horse more but thought I'd include this photo to show all that it is true. He had only one eye but he never missed a cue. I feel an interview with his rider is in order, don't you think?

Just an example of all the stories still to be written!

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Our message to Vienna...

Thanks so much to everyone who has taken the time to write to me about the blog. So far, every letter is an encouragement to proceed. We're up to 18 letters as of today, December 15th.

What I would like to do is make a book of your letters, which I will send to Mr. Aigner, the new director at the Spanish Riding School, and to Oberbereiter Riegler. I would like them and everyone at the School to read your words directly from their friends in the USA.

If you object to your letter being part of my dossier to Vienna, please let me know.

And I agree with every one of you on the major points. So far, no one has quite verbalized what I feel, which is that the Spanish Riding School's 2005 tour of the USA was not just another horse exhibition or event for many of us. We connected with the spectacle of these horses on a deeper level and the connection should be nurtured and allowed to grow, I believe.

Some of you suggested that the SRS is a bit secretive and publicity-shy. I believe I would have agreed with you until I went there and was received so graciously. I can tell you that no doors were closed to me...they even let me go into stalls and pick up horses' feet to see the shoes. (Try doing that in a show or racing barn, where the horses are stabled in knee-high straw so you can't see their feet. Intentionally!)

The new changes in the management of the Spanish Riding School are confusing and I don't know much about how the privitization works. I know two key people, Dr Werner Pohl and stud farm director Alfred Pischler, have left the organization. They were both very helpful to me and I am very grateful. As far as I know, neither of them has been replaced, although Mr. Aigner, the financial director, is now in the leadership role.

If I have a criticism it is that when I started researching this project back in June, I found that almost every book in English on the Spanish Riding School is out of print, and the 400th anniversary videotape (which is excellent, by the way) is no longer available in the USA. I was able to get everything I needed through rare and used book dealers (thank you, Robin Bledsoe) or through inter-library loans but how many people will go to all that trouble?

We have to keep this project going, I have much too much money invested in my Lipizzan library!

Keeping the legend of the SRS alive in the USA will be tough when a new generation of young riders can't devour the books the way so many of us did as children and now, still do as adults. In Vienna, there are fantastic books available, but the text is only in German. The best books I used for research were translated from German and most were published in the 1970s.

So, the blog needs to evolve into something else, or we need to find a sponsor or something to keep it going. Suggestions?

One thing I think I should do is create a web-based photo album or slide show of my trip to Vienna and Piber (just the SRS photos) so you can see more of the behind-the-scenes images I have. Does anyone have suggestions how to do that or where to post it?

Thanks to all of you, you have made this project very real. I am one with you, a great fan of these horses and this institution. Let's go forward together.

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The Next Generation

Meet Siglavy Malina, son of retiring solo star Siglavy Mantua I. He's nose-to-nose with equine-specialist journalist Melissa Birks of Albuquerque, New Mexico. I snapped this photo in the high alpine pasture above Piber in June. I have been told that he has been moved to Vienna, where he is a candidate for training in the Spanish Riding School. Good luck, Malina, you have big shoes to fill!

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

So you're headed to Vienna...

Here is the contact information for Eva-Maria at the Spanish Riding School's Vienna ticket office for tickets to Vienna performances.

Eva-Maria Schöbinger
Ticket Office / Visitor Centre
Michaelerplatz 1, 1010 Vienna, Austria
Tel.: 011+43-1-533 90 31-0
Fax: 011+43-1-533 90 31-40

Best advice is to go to the main SRS web site and do your homework. There is a calendar there showing the planned performances for 2006. There is also information on booking your own private performance, called a "Privatissimum" in case you want them all to yourself...or have a lot of friends in Vienna. It will be the trip of your lifetime!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Don't Say Good-Bye, Just Say, "Auf Wiedersehen"

Yes, that's the name of the corny song that Eddie Albert croons (or lip-syncs) early in the Disney movie, "Miracle of the White Stallions" as some of the SRS riders are sent off to the front to fight the advancing Russians, while the rest caper off to St. Martin im Innkreis to hide until the Americans arrive.

In a few hours, the 30 stallions of the Spanish Riding School will be loaded into two KLM jets and flown back to Amsterdam; they will travel by van from there back to Vienna.

But this blog isn't done yet. There are a few stories that still are not finished, as they were waiting for review or approval, and there may still be news from Vienna or photos from Houston that I can post.

And the tour really isn't over until they are back in the Stallburg, safe and sound. Perhaps we will have news from the SRS head office about the tour.

I want to thank everyone who has been part of this blog, and especially Cathy Laws and Kate Lindon of

And special thanks to Troy Tinker, the Spanish Riding School's silver-tongued narrator. He is truly the voice of the white stallions. It was (is) so special to have his input on this blog.

Also huge thanks to Gary Lashinsky, producer of the tour, who was so helpful via cell phone and email, and our friends at Lobeline PR and IMG.

Throughout my relationship with the Spanish Riding School, I have been so thrilled at the graciousness and generosity of the riders. They have been kind to me and so patient when my camera batteries were low or I ran out of film (which was often). Best of all, they are real people, at least until they climb into their saddles and become one with the horses. Then, as we have seen, they are no longer mere mortals!

What's your opinion, Lipizzan lovers? Shall I keep this blog alive and add posts as news trickles back to me from Vienna, or maybe start a new one (Lipizzan Lovers Long-Distance?) or what are your thoughts? It is clear to me that there is a great deal of interest in the culture, history, romance, and technique of classical dressage as performed by the Spanish Riding School and I know that there is always something wonderful going on around the palace in Vienna and/or at the stud in Piber.

Or maybe you have ideas about other events or groups that deserve a blog?

Please send me a private email to and let me know your thoughts. Please put "SRS Blog" in the subject line of your email so I will be sure to find it. Please do not post any more comments on the blog's comment system until or unless we decide to continue.

Thanks, everyone!

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Texas is Lipizzan Country--this week, anyway!

Everything is bigger in Texas...and that goes for the welcome, too. Classical dressage is a far cry for cutting, reining, and rodeo, but the crowds will be lining up tonight for the performance!

While in Houston, the riders will be introduced to members of the Southwest (USA) Lipizzan Association.

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Crossing Katrina Country...

The media has created a new geographic region in the United States: "Katrina" signifies the Gulf coast area devastated by Hurricane Katrina. This week, the stallions of the Spanish Riding School have had a few days off in West Monroe, Louisiana, at an equestrian center that was helpful to the Katrina evacuation effort.

The horses were able to relax from their long van ride from Atlanta, and stretch their legs. They had indoor stalls for two days!

On Wednesday (December 7), the horses loaded back onto the vans and continued to Houston, where they are now stabled at the Toyota Center in preparation for their final performances in the United States this weekend.

Exclusive! Backstage: Inside the Lipizzan Locker Room

Get behind the scenes on the Spanish Riding School's American tour with a photo gallery by Fran Jurga of how the great Lipizzan stallion Siglavy Mantua I gets ready for a performance.

Click Here to View Photo Gallery

Comment below to let us know what you think!

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SRS Saddle Cloths Speak Volumes

Once you start to study the Spanish Riding School in depth, you learn that everything means something. There is an intent to every detail, and nowhere are the details of this institution more significant than in the design of the saddle cloths.

First of all, these are actually ornaments, and not part of the saddle. Unlike the saddle cloths that you and I use when we ride, these attach to the back of the saddle with buckles.

The color and stripe pattern of the cloth tells whether the horse is to be used for the high school demonstrations, the quadrille, or the long rein training.

The simplest gold border tells you that the rider is an aspirant; two stripes are for riders, and three stripes signifies the oberbereiter rank.

The saddle cloth shown is worn by Conversano Dagmar for the long rein exercises. The double eagle is a symbol of the Austro-Hungarian empire that once dominated Europe. The short- and long-rein cloths would be the only full square saddle cloths in use. They are used with a stunning bright red girth.

2006 is All About Mozart in Vienna!

2006 is a huge year in Vienna, being the 250th anniversary of Mozart. (Of course you all can tell the Strauss music from the Mozart pieces during a Spanish Riding School performance, right?!?) I actually wish I knew more about the music. I recall Dr. Polz telling me that some original music had been composed expressly for the Spanish Riding School, but I don't think it is included in the program today.

Extreme Vienna: Waltz Like a Conversano, Neapolitano, Favory, or Siglavy on New Year's Day

One of my fondest memories of the Spanish Riding School took place neither in Vienna, nor Piber, nor at any of the USA tour performances. It was on TV.

A few years ago, perhaps it was 2000, master conductor Seiji Ozawa conducted the Vienna Philharmonic at their annual New Year's Day concert. This is a highly traditional, mostly-Strauss, mostly-waltz concert held annually and if you'd like to go...well, you might be able to book now for sometime a decade from now.

What Ozawa and his producers on PBS did so magnificently is that they cut from the concert hall to scenes of Vienna. Skaters in period costume glided on a rink as Ozawa conducted Strauss's "Skaters Waltz". You could see where Strauss got his inspirationn--they glided in time to the live music. Amazing.

Cut to the Palace ball room. Gowned ladies and gentlemen in tails whirled under chandeliers as snow fell outside leaded crystal windows. Ahhh, Vienna!

But Ozawa confessed that one of his most fascinating scenes was the one done with a monitor on his conductor's stand showing the Lipizzans of the Spanish Riding School performing next door in the Winter Riding Hall.

It was all done live. No possibility of a second take! Ozawa became intrigued with the horses, and watching their footfalls. His baton hovered in the air as he re-syncopated the famous waltz (sorry I can't remember which one it was, possibly "Blue Danube") to suit the rhythm of the horses' gaits.

PBS produced the concert for television, with a simulcast in stereo over NPR (radio). It was such a memorable broadcast.

Fast forward to 2005: Today I read an offbeat travel article in one of the British newspapers about the ball season in Vienna (yes, there is a ball "season") and how one, as a tourist, can be part of it.

The article tells of renting ballgowns, learning to waltz, and soaking up the incredible culture of winter in Vienna. What century is this, you will wonder!

Of course, the Spanish Riding School is right in the middle of it all--the center for learning to waltz like a Masterpiece Theater extra is right next to the stables at the Hofburg Palace!

Note: if you are visiting Vienna this month, you can see special working sessions of the apprentice riders and young stallions.

I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did, even if just for the fantasy of it all. Here's the link:

Vienna New Year's Day article from

Musings on the History of Lipizzans in the United States

Just musing: The Lipizzans selected for the US by General Patton didn't last long in US hands at the end of World War II. True, they were shipped home, along with the great Polish Arabian stallion Witez II. They landed in Virginia and then somehow showed up at the Kellogg Arabian Farm in Pomona, California, which had been comandeered as a remount station during World War II by the US Cavalry.

Horses were not a priority for the US military in 1946, and these precious horses, so carefully selected as the best of Europe by Patton and his staff, were put up for auction.

According to the excellent book, "War Horse", the stallion Pluto XX ended up in private hands in Oklahoma. The mares were sold to a circus. Don't you just wonder if there are horses in Oklahoma with some small percentage of Piber bloodlines?

Not to be outdone, there is a roadside marker in St. Rose, Louisiana--perhaps the SRS vans passed it--marking the resting place of Nordlicht, the Thoroughbred believed to have been owned by Adolf Hitler. Nordlicht was undefeated as a racehorse and won the Austrian derby in 1943. He died in 1968.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Doing What Comes Naturally--the Lipizzan Way!

In an interview with Rachael Mason, staff writer of the Gwinnett Daily Post in Georgia, last week, rider Herwig Radnetter stressed that the seemingly exaggerated and extravagant movements of the Lipizzans are actually manifestations of their natural action.

"The horses have a beautiful temperament. There are no lazy horses. They want to move. They also have a very good mind. They like to be ridden," he said.

"All that is done by the horses, the classical art of riding, are movements that the horses can already do," Radnetter said. "You would see all these movements on a field with stallions together, if you have time enough."

(Having spent an afternoon in the high alpine pasture with the young stallions, I can vouch for their creative playfulness...and athleticism!)

Read the entire interview at this link:

Herwig Radnetter interview in Gwinnett Daily Post 2 December 2005

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Brrrr! Weatherbeeta Takes the Chill Off!

It snowed in Philadelphia for Thanksgiving but the stallions of the Spanish Riding School were well-equipped with new "Freestyle" Weatherbeeta blankets.

This horse is being lead by stable manager Johannes. The horse is wearing a cavesson, which is interesting, instead of a soft head collar (halter). Cavessons are used for training and lungeing.

My guess is that the blankets were a bit tough to fit. The Lipizzans are on the small side, but their chests are quite broad. The length measurement could be deceiving!

Thanks, Weatherbeeta!

To learn more about Weatherbeeta blankets and rugs, visit the Weatherbeeta USA website.

(Click on archives in the top left column to read earlier posts from the tour.)

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