Travel review: Superstar horses of Vienna

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In a beautiful tranquil pasture at the foot of the Stubalpe and Gleinalpe in Austria a herd of mares and the their foals graze in the sun under the watchful eyes of a guard.

Later they are brought inside. Now under cover a pair of curious foals try to greet the latest group of humans trying to get close to these majestic horses.

The mares circle around their youngsters as the protective instinct kicks in.

But soon their guard is dropped realising this latest group of visitors pose no threat.

Maybe it is their genes. For the best part of four centuries this herds’ ancestors have built an unbreakable trust with humans.

The most curious of the foals is already demonstrating the traits and confidence he may need if he is one of the chosen.

He is a Lippizan born at the Federal Piber Stud Farm.

If he is chosen, and only the best stallions are, in about three and half years he will make the journey to Spanish Riding School in the first district of Vienna.

These horses have the disposition, temperament genes, and bloodlines, to become gymnasts, scholars, athletes and world famous superstars.

Piber has a responsibilty for breeding Lippizans, for the riding school, and to ensure that the pure and healthy Lippizan bloodline is continued.

The breeding programme is regulated by federal law.

Before the education, a legal requirement following the Tradition of Classic Horsemanship the horses live at Piber.

During the summer the herd of youngsters will live out on the mountains , always under the watch of the guards.

This closeness with humans is an ever present in these horses life.

Living out in the clear mountain air , eating the natural herbs and negotiating the passes is said to help develop the Lippizans character, balance and strength needed for the incredible techniques they may go onto perform.

Piber is a pretty impressive place for a horse to start life and its is also an impresive retirement home for the long lived performers of the Spanish Riding School .

When chosen they move to their new home in the heart of the city of Vienna.

There they maybe under the careful care and tuition of Herwig Radnetter.

At the age of just seven and half he saw the riders of the Spanish School perform right here in Vienna. And while his mother and father had ideas of him becoming a doctor or a lawyer perhaps, Herbert had already made his own plans.

He has been riding with the school for 38 years and seems to be a man at ease with himself and very relaxed. A bit like the horses - they too are very happy.

He said: “It is the same education for horses as it is for riders. The older guys learn from the older horses.

“The older riders teach the new horses. And somewhere in there one of the two should know what to do.”

There are 72 horses living at the riding school and each rider is responsible for seven or eight horses for their training.

Herbert said: “It is thinking about six or seven horses and their needs all the time.

“In Vienna keeping a horse is quite a challenge. “

It is very peaceful in the yard of their amazing stable block, very serene.

Herbert said: “They are all stallions here and there are no mares, there is no need competition for them - no need to fight.”

Women were first allowed into the riding school in 2008, and by Herbert’s admission he said, they have a “little catching up to do but is okay”.

Celeste Vrubel, 18, had only been at the school for one week and was hastily rushing from the tack room for her lesson.

She said: “I have very high hopes.”

Everything about these horses , and this place, is a bit fairytale, the stables, the feed, the tack, architecture, riding boots- even the muck pile looks too good to be true.

Each morning open riding sessions, set to classical music under the chandeliers of the baroque Winter Riding School, Vienna’s best ballroom, in the Hofburg Palace are performed to the gasping public.

(Oh, and Beethoven used to perform here too.)

Here you can see the riders and horses effortlessly and gracefully perform their unbelievable of ballet and gymnastic like routines including Caprioles, pirouettes, Aris above ground Courbettes and many more - breathtaking.

All of these riders are world stars and are heading out on tour again.

It is less than 100 years since the riding school became part of the public realm and the first public performance of the famous white horses. Before it was a reserve of the privileged.

As Austria made the transition to a republic it was head stable master Rudolf van der Straten who bailed out the Spanish Riding School.

He made performances public while the school was under threat during the 1920s and in 1925 he took it on tour alerting the world to the legend of the Spanish Riding School making horses and riders internationally famous.

The riding school will be arriving in the country to perform in Yorkshire for the first time later this month .

They will be at the Sheffield Motor Point Arena from October 31 until November 2.

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