The Spanish Riding School

Visiting the Spanish Riding School has been on my bucket list since I learned what it was as a kid. My husband made that dream come true by buying us tickets to see a performance there on our Honeymoon this past June. To make it completely surreal, Trainer E surprised us with a private tour of the stables from her trainer, Herbert, who is one of the riders there!

Just outside the doors of the SRS - strange, right?

Just outside the doors of the SRS – strange, right?

The Spanish Riding School is located in what we Americans might consider “downtown” Vienna. To be sure, it seems a strange place to have a stable full of horses. The architecture is absolutely beautiful.

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We arrived a little early because obviously I was excited. We headed over to the courtyard where we were supposed to meet Herbert. We waited outside of the courtyard gates and he met us right on time (although try waiting outside the gates where you can see the aisle leading into stalls and tell me you aren’t dying).

Looking in from the gate

Looking in from the gate

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Herbert let us in and I don’t think I could feel my hands. I was so excited and desperately trying to take it all in. The amount of history and tradition in that place is something to behold and, frankly, pictures will do it better justice than words.

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The SRS always keeps at least one bay Lipizzaner stallion for good luck; they are trained but not used in performances or for breeding.

The SRS always keeps at least one bay Lipizzaner stallion for good luck; they are trained but not used in performances or for breeding.

Cue melting down. So. Gorgeous.

Cue melting down. So. Gorgeous.

Herbert told us there were about 75 horses there and proceeded to show us around the “barn” which isn’t a grand enough word for what it really was. He took us to one of his stallions first, one he would be riding in the performance shortly thereafter. I sheepishly asked if I could pet him and he said of course with a grin.

Bringing his charge over to meet us

Bringing his charge over to meet us

Herbert gave me sugar. Clearly the stallions here aren't sweet at all.

Herbert gave me sugar. Clearly the stallions here aren’t sweet at all.

If you are accepted as a student – an Eleves at the lowest level – at the SRS, you are assigned a four year old stallion that you are responsible for the training of for the rest of his life. The horse above was Herbert’s first stallion, now age 19 but still used in performances. Definite proof that dressage done right can do wonders for a horse’s body.

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He offered to show us any stallions we wanted. All of the horses at the SRS are stallions – they never have any geldings or mares. The mares, of course, would distract the stallions in such small quarters (no turnout in the middle of metropolitan Vienna).

A four year old stallion who was in the young horse performance seciton

A four year old stallion who was in the young horse performance section

Preparing one of the stallions who was in the airs above the grounds section

Preparing one of the stallions who was in the airs above the grounds section

After I’d contented myself with petting as many muzzles as I could, we made it to the tack room. Massive, massive amounts of coveting. See for yourself…

Can you see my open jaw?

Can you see my open jaw?

Schooling bridles

Schooling bridles

The schooling saddles are black leather and the performance saddles are the white deerskin.

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The schooling saddles are black leather and the performance saddles are the white deerskin.

After spying the brands below, I asked Herbert if any of the bloodlines tended to specialize in one part of the performance. For instance, was one bloodline usually hotter and therefore used in the airs above the ground? Herbert said that no, the bloodlines are pretty widespread in that regard. He did point out the the super talented stallions, the ones with potential for the haute ecole, definitely tended to be more sensitive and complex individuals.

A cool piece of leather showing all the Lipizzaner brands represented at the SRS

A cool piece of leather showing all the Lipizzaner sirelines represented at the SRS

Myself, Herbert and my Husband

Myself, Herbert and my Husband

At this point, it was nearly time for the performance. Herbert was so humble and friendly. I was definitely sad I couldn’t be greedy and pick his brain some more. He walked us to our seats inside the winter riding school. It felt special to have a rider who was clearly dressed for the performance take us to our seats. Ben spoiled me and got us ground seats in the third row.

Unfortunately, during the performance, there is no photography allowed but you can check YouTube for videos of what they do if you haven’t seen it before.

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Best. Husband. Ever

Best. Husband. Ever

All in all, it met every expectation and then some. If you’re ever in Vienna, I highly recommend making a trip and spending the money on a performance. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

Back To Reality

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Photo by Elise

I’m a married woman! Trainer Elise posted the photo above on instagram the morning of my wedding. She was the first to make me cry. It was the next best thing to having my horse be there for my big day. Everything was beautiful – no wedding photos just yet – then we jetted off to Germany and Austria for almost two weeks. We checked a big item off of my bucket list – the Spanish Riding School. But that day deserves a post all to itself.

So while I’m back to reality and back to work, Nibbles remains with her super trainer for the time being. We don’t have a set end date which is perfectly fine with me because my brain is still sizzling from so much change and Nibbles is doing so incredibly well.

Photo by Elise

Photo by Elise

Nibbles went on her first “trail ride” which was really just a large field. Elise rode her in a halter at walk, trot and canter without any problems. If you ask me, Nibbles much prefers the outdoors and that halter. Hippie horse. Elise also rode Nibbles with a fabulous clinician in a private session and had a great experience. The clinician liked Nibbles and thought she had a lot of potential.

The private lesson started with groundwork, cleaning it up. Nibbles gets a noodly neck to on e direction and gets her nose to close to you when you break over her hindquarters.  So they worked on preventing that by reaching up with the leading hand to improve her balance and further engage her hindquarters. She said they worked on waiting a little longer so she can’t rush and that overall the work was light and easy. Next, they did the same thing but in the bridle with a lot of stopping and turning but not bridging the the hind through or fore across like in the halter.

They worked on making her more steady at the mounting block. Elise reports that Nibbles has been okay but hasn’t really improved much. She said she gets anxious when going between the mounting block and wall/fence line. They usually come to the outside or circle it. The clinician spotted this, made a few tweaks and in less than 5 minutes, it made a huge difference just by changing how they asked her to walk up to the mounting block. I’m excited to see this in person!

Finally was the under saddle work and really asking for more control of her feet: bringing her hindquarters under just like the groundwork, thinking about asking the forehand to come across, and slowing down/speeding up her feet with just your seat (which Elise says she already does super well). I also can’t wait to see the adjustment they made when she gets wiggly in her head: he had her widen her hands way more than she thought and showed Elise how this made a difference by having her hold the bit in her hands. They also added a slight push of the hands forward through upward transitions to help eliminate head tossing.

Photo yet again by Elise

Progress – Photo yet again by Elise

Basically, I’m dying to see my mare. My husband (!!!!) and I have plans to make the trip to see her next weekend, July 11th.