I have wanted to visit Vienna since I was a little girl, and only for one specific reason: The Spanish Riding School, or Spanische Hofreitschule as the original name is. You see, I was that girl who was crazy about horses. The one with the horse posters on the bedroom wall, and pictures of horses on her jumpers, and a book-case full with stories of horses.
I’ve grown out of those jumpers today, but I do still enjoy horse-riding, and I still wanted to see the Spanish Riding School when I went on my first trip to Vienna in 2014. It ended up being the only thing on the trip we pre-booked from home, because it was that high on my list.
There are different options for visiting the school. You can either go to one of their evening performances and watch a full show. Or, you can take the much cheaper option and visit a morning training. That’s what we did. Another advantage is that unlike the performances the morning exercise is on every day. You can book it in combination with a guided tour of the stables and thus safe even more money.
The morning exercise
Watching the morning exercise may not give you the perfected experience that a show does. Instead you get an idea of how they train their famous white stallions and teach them all those amazing feats that later on impress so many in the shows.
I admit that it helps a lot to be into the whole horse-riding thing to truly appreciate watching the training. After all, there is not much explanation given to what happens in the arena and you’re left to your own judgment. Moreover, daily training is not as spectacular as the final show. The American family behind us didn’t seem very amazed and soon left out of boredom. However, I thought it was fascinating to just watch the riders do their everyday work.
Most importantly, if you leave early you might miss the most spectacular part. In the second half of the session they brought out the horses further advanced in their training and worked with them on more difficult – and more spectacular – exercises of classical dressage. There were horses completing complex jumps and movements in the air that were beautiful to behold.
Touring the Spanish Riding School
Later in the day we came back for our tour of the stables. A guide showed us around the riding school, the stables, the training areas, the tack rooms and everything else of interest. In the process he familiarized us with the history of the more than 450 year old school and explained the workings of the stables.
The riding school in Vienna is one of three locations where the white Lipizzaner are bred and trained. There is the stud in the West Styrian village Piber,from where the stallions come to Vienna for their training. The third location is at Heldenberg in Lower Austria, where the horses are trained as well. Moreover, each year they go there for a summer holiday of two to three months, to enjoy the much greater spaces and freedom not available for them in the middle of the city.
It was very educational, as the school has such a long history. At the same time, it’s now a modern enterprise with big logistics to ensure everything is running smoothly. There’s a lot to learn, and I dare to assume that you would not get most of this information if you were merely to visit a show. Besides, my little horse-girl heart was more than happy to get to see so many beautiful animals.
If you want the entertainment, go and see a performance. But if you want to learn something about the workings and the background of this impressive place, do a tour and visit the training. It’s also a lot lighter on your bank account.
Have you been to the Spanish Riding School? If so, did you visit a performance or a training? Was it the right decision? Share in the comments!