Spanish Riding School 2005 American Tour

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

They're Here: The Stallions Have Landed!

Two KLM jets touched down at New York's JFK International Airport this weekend and unloaded a most precious cargo: 30 Lipizzan stallions of the Spanish Riding School.

Yes, we tried to get on the tarmac to photograph the arrival, but security at JFK doesn't allow anyone anywhere near the planes.

On Saturday, just a few miles away, the Breeders Cup races were being run at Belmont Park. What a concentration of valuable animals in one neighborhood!

The SRS riders and support staff did not fly with the horses, but instead flew to the USA on Austrian Air, with a domestic connection on to Columbus, Ohio, first stop on the tour.

The horses are headed to the New York Animal Import Center at Newburgh, New York, where they will be quarantined for a few days by the US Department of Agriculture. More about that tomorrow!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Ready for take-off (almost)!

Does the thought of 30 stallions milling about on the tarmac of one of the world's major international airports sound like a nightmare to you? Then you haven't met the stallions of the Spanish Riding School. Here's one of them with his handler. (Sorry, they all look quite similar from a distance--the stallions, not the handlers!--so I am not sure which stallion this is.) KLM ships over 5000 horses a year to the US from Europe. Horses usually ship in trailer-like compartments like the blue one you can see in the background.

To learn more about shipping horses by air, visit the Animal Transport Association

Friday, October 28, 2005

Stallions Leave Vienna for USA via Amsterdam

Thirty stallions leave Vienna today for a long van ride across Europe to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. They will fly from Amsterdam to New York on two KLM jets. In this photo, you see them waiting patiently in the courtyard outside the Winter Palace before being loaded on vans. Photo copyright Wolfgang Steineder, courtesey of Nina Alexandersen, IMG Productions.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

How Old Are The Stallions?

Did you know that Lipizzans are one of the slowest breeds to mature? Many of the Spanish Riding School's stallions are reaching the heights of their careers long after performing sport horses of the same age have retired. Their secret is in the methodic, classical training and in these horses' remarkable soundness and strength.

Here are some age facts about the 30 stallions coming to the USA this weekend:

Oldest: Siglavy Mantua I, born 22 January 1979; followed closely by Neapolitano Nima I, born 11 April of the same year. "Mantua" is the oldest of all the stallions at the stables in Vienna. You will be hearing much more about this horse; in spite of his age, he is the horse who performs the beautiful solo routine, with Oberbereiter ("senior rider") Klaus Krzisch.

Youngest: Three stallions are only nine years old. They are Maestoso Cattinara, Maestoso Virtuosa,and Favory Bartonia. They are the youngest. In Vienna performances, younger stallions present a group display as part of their training at the lower levels but no younger ones will be on the USA tour.

Photo: I hope this photo is clear enough for you to be able to read the lovely stall marker on Siglavy Mantua I's stall at home in Vienna. It was an honor for me to be able to visit him at his stall. Each stallion's name is similarly handwritten on his stall sign, with the year of his birth. If you look closely, in the background you can see one of the ornate plaster horseheads embellishing the vaulted ceiling of the stable.

Read about General Patton's Rescue of the Lipizzans in the November EQUUS

Would you like to know what really happened at the end of World War II? Read my article in the November 2005 edition of EQUUS (call 301-977-3900 to order the back issue or pick it up at a tack shop near you). It details the rescue of the Spanish Riding School and, by extension, the Lipizzan breed, by the US Army in 1945. I focused on the involvement of US General George S. Patton Jr. (shown in photo with his constant companion throughout the war, English bull terrier "William the Conqueror", aka "Willie").

This rescue was fictionalized (somewhat) for the Disney film Miracle of the White Stallions. The movie was made in the 1960s but is still great to watch today. Your local library probably has a copy of the video. It is a great preview to the performances in the USA, which are dedicated to the generosity of Patton and the US Army.

"Lipizzan": What does the breed's name mean?

Many people identify the Spanish Riding School horses as Lipizzans bred in Austria at the Piber federal stud but that has not always been the case. The ancestral home of the breed has always been at the town of Lipica (also known by the Italian name Lipizza) in the region known as Karst.

Horse breeding has been a tradition in the Karst since Roman times. The region was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire ruled from Vienna and control over it has changed many times after many wars in the past 500 years. The Imperial Court at Vienna preferred horses bred at Lipica and the first Spanish horses were sent there in 1580 to form the basis of the new breed to be known as Lipizzans.

After World War II, Karst became part of the conglomerate of regions known as Yugoslavia. When Yugoslavia broke up, Karst became part of Slovenia.

A Riding School Worth Rescuing More Than Once

Europe has never been a very stable place. Look back over the past 500 years, since the Lipizzan breed was started: Someone always seems to be on the march, dictators have come and gone and neighbors of different religions easily find an excuse to start a civil war.

In troubled times, the problem has always been how to protect the breeding stock of Lipizzans from invaders, whether they came from the east or west or north. The Germans in World War II actually did take over the studs, and moved all the mares to Czechoslovakia, forming sort of a giant family reunion of Lipizzans from various countries.

Napoleon was not so lucky, though he would have loved to call the Lipizzans his own. In 1796, his troops marched through Lipica. As the battle lines approached, 300 horses made a 44-day trek to Stuhlweissenburg in Hungary, and then on to various holding farms. During the journey, 16 mares foaled, but all survived. That fall, they returned home after a peace treaty was signed.

Soon after their return, an earthquake struck Lipica and many of the buildings were ruined.

Napoleon approached again in 1805 and the horses were moved to Diakovar and Karjad, where a fire broke out in the stables, but the horses were all rescued.

Finally, in 1809, the horses ducked Napoleon again. This time, they trotted off to Pecska in eastern Hungary. Something there, perhaps in the pastures or in the climate, did not suit the mares and 110 of them miscarried. This was a terrible blow to the breed. When they got back home,they found that a French-appointed governor ruled Karst and the stud farm was left to decay. After Napoleon was sent to exile, Karst became part of Italy.

Fast forward to World War I. Italy wisely sent some Lipizzans to Austria and some to Bohemia in what would be known as Czechoslovakia. You may remember that World War I began in the Balkan region near Karst. After that war, half of the horses stayed in Austria to begin what would be the breeding program at Piber; the others returned to Lipica.

The Balkan conflicts of the late 1900s and early part of this century affected the remained stud farms in the Balkans. The International League for the Protection of Horses sent a rescue crew to help at one point; even today the studs in the former Yugoslavia struggle to maintain their prideful place as the true home of the breed.

Friday, October 21, 2005

THE TOUR: Dates and Places

The Spanish Riding School stallions, riders, and entourage will arrive in New York City on October 29th and 30th. Once they have successfully completed quarantine in New York, they will head to Columbus, Ohio to begin the tour.

Here are the official tour cities, performance sites, dates, and information numbers:

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 5 at 7:30pm and SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 6 at 2:30pm
Info: 614-431-3600

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 12 at 7:30pm and SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 13 at 2:30pm
Info: 314-241-1888

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 19 at 7:30pm and SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 20 at 2:30pm
Info: 202-397-7328

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 25 at 7:30pm and SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 26 at 2:30pm
Info: 215-336-2000

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 3 at 7:30pm and SUNDAY, DECEMBER 4 at 2:30pm
Info: 404-249-6400

1510 Polk St. Houston, TX 77002, (713) 758 7200
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10 at 7:30pm and SUNDAY, DECEMBER 11 at 2:30pm

You can learn more about how to purchase tickets by visiting

There is also a fantastic video clip at that site for you to watch!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Top 10 Books About the Spanish Riding School by Fran Jurga

Here is my reading list for anyone who wants a crash course in the Spanish Riding School in time for the 2005 USA Tour. These are not books that cover the art of riding, per se; these are history and photography and art books that will give you a foundation to understand what these horses represent in terms of the classical training of the horse in Europe.

1. WHITE STALLION OF LIPIZZA by Marguerite Henry, Illustrated by Wesley Dennis. With all due respect to Colonel Podhajsky of the Spanish Riding School, there is just no book quite like Marguerite Henry's 1964 classic. Order it from a used book store, or check it out of your local library. This book is not just for children! It tells the tale of a young bread delivery boy, Hans Haupt, who dreams of riding a Lipizzaner as he trots along the streets of Vienna with his cart horse. This book was deeply researched and seems quite accurate and believable, though she swears it is purely fiction. Buy a copy for a young horse lover you know, too. This book is that good. OUT OF PRINT

2. MY DANCING WHITE HORSES, The Autobiography of Alois Podhajsky, translated by Frances Hogarth-Gaute (1964). I enjoy all of Podhajsky's books but this one seems the most in-depth and has been very useful to me in researching what REALLY happened in May 1945 in St Martins. Great photos, too. This may be more than you want to know about the once-director of the Spanish Riding School but it you are at all interested in the horse in the 20th century and want a European point of view, this book will meet your needs and then some. The explanation of how the School operated during World War II is told with honesty and without apology. OUT OF PRINT

3. THE WHITE STALLIONS OF VIENNA by Alois Podhajsky. This is Podhajsky-Lite, but oh, the photos! Fantastic gravure-type printing of lovely black and white photos of the Spanish Riding School's horses and activities in the mid-20th Century. This is the next best thing to going to Vienna, if you love high quality black and white photography as much as I do. OUT OF PRINT

3a THE LIPIZZANERS: The Photographic Story of the White Stallions of Vienna by Alois Podhajsky is very similar to the above, with some variation in photos. OUT OF PRINT

4. MY HORSES MY TEACHERS by Alois Podhajsky. Him again? Yes! This book is technically not about the Spanish Riding School but it gives insight into the man who accomplished so much for so many years and who is forever indelibly identified with the institution. It is quite artful; he tells the story of his own life by telling the stories of the horses who shared his life. Includes great insights into some of the individual horses of the Spanish Riding School. IN PRINT! HOORAY! Thank you, Trafalgar Square, for keeping this book available! Order online at

5. THE SPANISH RIDING SCHOOL: Four Centuries of Classic Horsemanship by Hans Handler, Photos by Erich Lessing, Translated from the German by Russell Stockman (1972). I love this book and it, along with The White Stallions of Vienna, is the best resource for visual studies of the history of the Spanish Riding School. The chronology of the Spanish Riding School in oversized "coffee table book" format, but with impeccable German detail to text detail and lots of explanatory illustrations. This is probably the best all-around book available. This book also gives a good impression of the depth of training for both horse and rider. OUT OF PRINT. (Try to find it anyway)

6. GREAT RIDING SCHOOLS OF THE WORLD by Dorian Williams, preface by William Steinkraus. This book will make you want to pack your bags and tour the world. While only one chapter is about the Spanish Riding School, the author will share with you the history and traditions of other great riding schools. Travel to the Reitsportzentrum in Elgg Switzerland; to the Ridskolan in Stromsholm, Sweden; to the Burevestnik in Moscow, Russia; Derne in Holland, Saumur in France, and even Gladstone in New Jersey. Why are books like this out of print? OUT OF PRINT

7. The Button Box: A Daughter's Loving Memory of Mrs. George S. Pattton by Ruth Ellen Patton Totten has little, if anything, to do with the Spanish Riding School, but it is the story of General Patton's daughter. She details the horsey life of a military family in the first half of the 20th century in the USA, including some very heady times in Hawaii. I loved the passages about horse-buying trips to the Parker Ranch on The Big Island. This book gives lots of details into the horsiness of General Patton and perhaps some insight into what may have gone on in St Martins in Austria in May 1945 when he met Podhajsky and the Lipizzans face to face. Especially poignant is the description of the last hours of his life; he died as his wife was reading Steinbeck's THE RED PONY to him. More on him later! JUST PUBLISHED, 2005.

8. LIPIZZANER: THE STORY OF THE HORSES OF LIPICA, Commemorating the 400th Anniversary of the Lipizzaner by Dr Milan Dolenc. Let's not forget that the Lipizzaner is truly the product of Eastern Europe, a region with incomparably deep history and traditions of the horse. This book goes beyond Piber and Vienna and takes us to Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, and Italy to see what role the Lipizzan horse has played in each country's horse history. It is hard to say what has become of the stud farms that were in the former Yugoslavia. This book captures them in time, as they were in 1980. We need more books like this one.

9. HORSES AND HORSEMANSHIP THROUGH THE AGES by Luigi Gianoli., translated by Iris Brooks.(English edition 1969) You can't understand the Spanish Riding School unless you understand how horses have been ridden through the ages, and this book tells you and shows you. At first glance, you might think this is an oversized art book, but it is really a text to study. The Italian author puts a good southern European spin on the horsemanship angle. Also includes much of the history of the Thoroughbred, hunting, polo, etc. Do your homework! OUT OF PRINT

10. WORKBOOKS FROM THE SPANISH RIDING SCHOOL 1948-1951 by Charles Harris. Perhaps this is a book about riding, after all, but after reading the Top Nine books, you will be ready to study the rider's art. This book has just been published in the UK in 2005 and is a big scarce in the USA, but it is worth the search. Charles Harris was a student with the Spanish Riding School in the post-World War II years, before the return to Vienna. His notes are somewhat abstract, his sketches are endearing, and the YOU ARE THERE factor is very high. His recollections of the war and the training are compelling. This is a "food for thought" book and does not beg to be read from start to finish. Start anywhere, you will want to read more! Thank you, Trafalgar Square, for making this book (somewhat) available! IN PRINT Order online from the JA Allen section at

Other books on my shelf that are helpful: THE SPANISH RIDING SCHOOL by Mathilde Windisch-Graetz (no date, estimated 1960); THE LIPPIZANERS and the Spanish Riding School of Vienna by Philippe Dumas (sort of a children's book, but not really, 1981), THE LIPIZZAN HORSE; A Guide to Vienna's Spanish Riding School and Lipizzaner Museum by Georg Kugler (2004).

Note: Classical riding is a subject that begs for in-depth reading. There are a dozen or more excellent books available IN PRINT on the subject and so many more out of print. Build yourself a library, whether you are riding in the classical style or not. You will be amazed at the insights into horses and biomechanics that can be gleaned from books written hundreds of years ago.

For out of print books, we recommend calling Robin Bledsoe, who is probably the world's leading authority on horse books. She has a fantastic shop in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts and ships worldwide. Perhaps you can find individual books for less online, but Robin can and will help you select books that you will read--and read again. A visit to her shop is a real treat. Please support individual booksellers like Robin. We need them. Tel 617-576-3634.

Friday, October 07, 2005

THE RIDERS: Meet Oberbereiter Riegler

Throughout this blog and throughout the tour, you will hear the name of Johann Riegler. Mr. Riegler is properly known as Oberbereiter Riegler, or "chief rider". The term is both his official work title, and, when used to address him, a sign of respect.

Oberbereiter Riegler will also be the spokesman for the Spanish Riding School during the USA tour, so you will see him on television and in the news a lot. His English is very good and he has been very helpful.

Johann Riegler has been riding since he was 12 years old; he grew up on a farm in Lower Austria and joined the Spanish Riding School in August 1969. Now 52 years old, he is also very involved in riding in his private life, as are his wife and son.

Johann Riegler was appointed oberbereiter in January 1991. He is one of three oberbereiters who will be riding in the USA.