Spanish Riding School 2005 American Tour

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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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, great list! I loved the Marguerite Henry book when I was little (but who didn't?!). I'll have to check out the others, too.

12:26 PM, October 25, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved the Marguerite Henry book too--one of my favorites. Can't wait to see the SRS tour!

4:34 PM, October 28, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What horse lover didn't devour Margurite Henry? As I booked my tickets to see the stallions in DC I swear my hands were shaking!

With respect, although it didn't make you top 10 list, I have enjoyed:

Hans-Henrich Isenbart and Emil Biihrer, The Imperial Horse: The Saga of the Lippizzaners. New York: Alfred Knopf 1986.

I like it because it identifies the brands and the bloodlines, although not having read Podhasksy's books, perhaps I am out of touch. It's a coffee table book, lavishly illustrated and one of the showpieces of my library. Sadly, I haven't collected the others on your list. I suspect I have too many hobbies!

Thanks for your blog and the information it contains!

11:08 AM, October 30, 2005  
Blogger Fran Jurga said...


Thanks for telling me about that book, The Imperial Horse, Kelli. I would really like to find a copy! Do you know where any are hiding? I will call Robin Bledsoe tomorrow to see if she has one at her shop!

Thanks again, I love finding out about more books!

Fran Jurga

7:24 PM, November 01, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Isenbart book has been Out of Print for some time. It is a tremendous book with a wealth of information regarding the breed, it's history and the different breeding farms around the world.

If I am not mistaken, Mr.Isenbart is the person who announced for the SRS while they were performing this year in Aachen.

7:13 PM, November 04, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi -
Isenbart's book is hard to find but it is worth it, so keep looking. I found mine in a shop in Yarmouth (MA) a decade or more ago, and there are sometimes copies on eBay (there's one there now). Sandy

5:39 PM, November 07, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your blog - very interesting. I have tickets to the event in Philadelphia which I bought some time ago. Then I found out they have a "pre-show clinic" too? I can't seem to find any info on how to get tickets (if there are still any) for that. Any help would be much appreciated.


5:27 PM, November 08, 2005  
Blogger said...

Hi Mary,
Call Brad Sims at (215) 952-4129 or email him for more info on the Philly pre-performance clinic. It seems to be open to anyone who has tickets, but it's worth making sure ahead of time!

1:44 PM, November 14, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful Blog! I too am a little tiny bookseller, Who emphasizes classical riding as well as my other loves which are wild horses and natural horsemanship a la Xenophon, Dorrance, et al. I do carry the Workbooks from the Spanish School on and other books in this vein.

7:56 PM, December 06, 2005  
Blogger Miss Ladybug said...

Are you aware of any children's book about Patton's encounter with the Lipizzans?

10:29 PM, May 21, 2008  
Blogger Fran Jurga said...

Hello, Ms Ladybug!

No, no book exists that I have seen, at any rate. There are, of course, promo materials for the Disney movie, which was loosely based on the US rescue of the Lipizzaners at the end of the war. Patton is portrayed in that film.

1:00 AM, May 23, 2008  
Blogger Miss Ladybug said...

Just got done reading The Button Box. While I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found it fascinating, it breathed not one word about the rescue of the Lipizzan horses towards the end of WWII, which was my main intent behind purchasing and reading it...

2:05 AM, October 06, 2008  

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