Should You Better Get On Your Horse?
Every classical city guide harps on about the Spanish Riding School as a Must-See in Vienna. Should you part with two hours of your precious time to experience baroque horses performing to classical music in a baroque riding hall? For 30 years I wasn’t convinced. Read my first-hand review of watching a show at the Spanish Riding School, and get a quick overview of what is on offer.
5 Key Facts About The Spanish Riding School
- The Spanish Riding School is home of the Lipizzaner stallions, a unique European breed.
- The Spanish Riding School is the oldest classical horse riding school in the world and was first mentioned in writing in 1565, during the reign of Archduke Maximilian II.
- The Spanische Hofreitschuleforms part of the UNESCO Ranking of Immaterial Cultural Heritage, and is included in Austria’s List of National Cultural Assets.
- At the centre of the Riding School’s almost daily shows is the magical interplay between white baroque horses and their horse trainers, ritually performed to classical music in the 18th century baroque winter riding hall.
- The 72 Lipizzaner stallions live in the Stallburg right in the centre of Vienna and next to the winter riding hall, where they are trained and provide performances.
Since 2010, the Spanish Riding School is also the location of a lavish baroque-style summer night ball, the Fête Impériale. The winter riding hall is transformed into a ball dance floor while the lipizzans take their summer holidays outside of Vienna. The net proceeds of the ball are used for further research into breeding Lipizzans, and to nurture and cultivate them.
Which Shows Are On Offer?
There are four ways in which you can see the Spanish Riding School and the Lipizzaner: Morning Exercises, Performances, Guided Tours, and the Programme ‘Piber Meets Vienna’.
Children between 3 and 6 years go free, children between 6 and 12 years pay a reduced fee. Children under three years are not allowed to visit the events.
Watching a group of Lipizzaner stallions at an official performance will change the way you think about horses. The solid-hoofed mounts morph into ballet dancers and graceful athletes as they show off their delicate Pas de Deux, the Big School Quadrille, and what is called the School Above The Earth: lifting their front legs, or both their front and back legs, in figures such as thelevade, the capriole, or the courbette. Watch a video of a performance of the Spanish Riding School below.
Bookings: Get tickets for a performance.
The Morning Exercises let you participate in the daily gymnastics of theLipizzaner Stallions, which is performed with classical music in the winter riding hall. The exercises take around two hours (10 am to 12 noon) and feature different horses which perform light exercises. The event itself is quite relaxed. You can wander along the galleries to see the horses, leave and re-enter as long as you do not make noise. You can only buy tickets for the morning exercises on the day. As the shows are usually popular, arrive either 15 minutes early or a little later (you can always join during the exercises) to buy your tickets on site, and to avoid long queues.
Dates: daily, 10am to 12 noon; no morning exercises in July and August
Tickets: EUR 14
Before you tear yourself apart trying to see both these world-class institutions during your stay consider seeing them in the same programme, in one location.
Since March 2014 you are able to see the choir boys perform at the baroque winter riding hall alongside the lipizzaner stallions.
If you love horses, you may want to learn more about the Lipizzaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School Vienna, how they are bred at the Federal Stud in Piber, how their diet looks like and their training schedule and performances. You will learn about the career of a Lipizzan horse trainer (Bereiter) and what their daily routine looks like. During the guided tour, you will also see the horses in their stables, the training facilities, saddles and other equipment used.
Dates: Monday to Saturday at 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm; Sundays: 10am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm; tours are also taking place in July and August
Tickets: EUR 16;
Bookings: You can buy tickets for a guided afternoon tour onsite, for example when you arrive for the performance.
The annual summer programme brings the young foals and their mares from the Federal Stud Piber into the Spanish Riding School. You will get to know the Lipizzans other skills as carriage horses, for which some of them have been alternatively trained, pulling original carriages and coachmen in historic uniforms. Expect a fun horse show and a break from a formal Lipizzaner performance. This makes the event ideal for children from 3 years of age.
Dates: July and August (dates for 2014 to be announced)
Tickets: EUR 10 to EUR 40; free admission for children between 3 and 6 years; half-price tickets for children aged 6 to 12 years.
Bookings: Get tickets for Piber Meets Vienna
Review: Our Visit At The Spanish Riding School
My Austrian family and I had never visited the Spanish Riding School Vienna before. It was rather something for a Vienna tourist, we thought. My non-Austrian husband was the first to set foot in the Hofreitschule a couple of years ago. He and my daughter loved it and in 2011 we all visited the place together.
We bought show tickets and a guided tour through the school and stables in the afternoon. I was quite impressed with the large white baroque winter riding hall with visitors’ galleries on two levels, the historically dressed trainers, the delicate trots and dances of the Lipizzaner stallions, and the classical music. Horse trainings couldn’t get more elegant than this.
There were four to six horses training at one time. After about 20 minutes of exercise, new horses entered while the others left to relax. I liked the fact that we were observing part of the daily routine of these athletes. My five year old daughter was fascinated, while my three year old son was happy to be able to move around the galleries and see the horses from different angles.
What I took from this event: You do not need to be crazy about horses to be truly intrigued by the Spanish Riding School. It is about classical cultural events rather than horse shows.
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