Lipizzan Stallions Perform in Vienna
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
VIENNA, Austria, Jul. 31, 1998 Talk about a history: For more than 400 years, Lipizzan stallions have performed before kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers. Known as Lipizzaners, the horses have survived Napoleon's advances and two world wars.
In fact, it was right at the end of World War II that the American military had a hand in the fate of the famed horses. Shortly before the German surrender, German army Lt. Col. Hubert Rudofsky secretly contacted U.S. Gen. George S. Patton, asking him to save the white stallions for the Republic of Austria. During World War II, Germany's Third Reich had moved the stud farm to Hostau, Czechoslovakia, under the command of Rudofsky, a famous horseman.
A keen horseman who had competed in the first Olympic equestrian event in 1912 in Stockholm, Sweden, Patton complied with the request. American soldiers, led by Army Col. Charles H. Reed of the Second Cavalry Brigade, conducted a lightning operation to rescue more than 200 mares and foals.
Today, hundreds of thousands of visitors to Austria's capital watch the Lipizzaners perform classical equestrian arts. They appear from March through June, and September through December at the city's Spanish Riding School, adjacent to the Hofburg Palace. The school closes from June 29 to Aug. 30.
At a typical program, classical music plays as majestic white stallions enter an arena 180 feet long, 60 feet wide and 55 feet high. The horses perform under crystal chandeliers in the ornate, white and gold baroque hall that resembles a ceremonial ballroom.
With remarkably restrained energy, the stallions regally sidestep, crisscrossing in intermingling figure-eights, before circling in a "pirouette." Every muscle visible and controlled, they precisely trot in place. These are their "on-the-ground" drills.
Next come their above-the-ground drills. Performing a "courbette," a stallion rears upright, then jumps on its hind legs four times. But it's the "kapriole" that caps the equine show, as a stallion jumps from a dead standstill into the air and mightily kicks out its back legs.
The stallions are bred and painstakingly trained for years from age 4 to display discipline and controlled power in what's known as "haute ecole," or the classical equestrian arts. Riders use no written instructions, but pass their skills by word of mouth through the generations.
Originally bred in Spain as early as Roman times, Lipizzaners are named after the Austrian royal stud farm at Lipizza, near Trieste, in Slovenia in imperial times. Archduke Karl of Inner Austria acquired the farm in the Karst mountain range in 1580. He started with six Spanish stallions and 24 brood mares. By 1728, the farm had expanded to house nearly 150 brood mares.
European wars disrupted life for the Lipizzaners several times. During the Napoleonic wars, Austrian officials moved the horses to Hungary to escape French troops. During World War I, the stud farm at Lipizza became part of Italy, and Austrian officials moved some horses to Laxenburg, near Vienna, and others to Kladrub, near Prague, Czechoslovakia. In 1920, the Lipizzaners remaining in Austrian hands moved to Piber, in the Austrian province of Styria. Then came the horses' movement in World War II.
Today, the Lipizzaners are bred at the Austrian Federal Stud farm at Piber. The Stallburg stables currently house about 70 horses, which are led to the riding school for work every morning.
For 80-minute gala performances, prices range from 200 Austrian schillings ($16) for standing room to 250 to 900 schillings ($20- $70) for seats. Classical dressage performances last one hour and seats cost 250 Austrian schillings. Reservations are available through ticket and travel agencies.
The Lipizzaner Museum is housed on three floors of the former court pharmacy at the Imperial Palace Stables. It features historical paintings, photos, documents, videotapes and other equestrian uniforms and equipment. Two soundproof windows overlook several stalls in the Stallburg stables and give visitors a view of the Lipizzaners' daily routine.
Although the stables are normally closed to them, visitors can watch morning training sessions on select dates in January, March through June, and September through December. Contact the Lipizzaner Museum or a travel agent for dates. Admission is 100 Austrian schillings for adults and 30 schillings for children. No reservations are available; tickets are sold at the riding school entrance and at the museum, located across the street.
The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Admission is 50 schillings for adults, 35 schillings for children. The address is Lipizzaner Museum, Stallburg/Hofburg, Reitschulgasse 2, A-1010 Wien.
For more information about Austria, contact the Austrian National Tourist Office in the United States, P.O. Box 1142, New York, NY 10108-1142, or telephone 212-944-6880. In Vienna, the tourism office address is Karntner Strasse 38. It's open daily 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The office's official Web site is http://austria-info.at/.