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Sunday break--The white stallions of Vienna

It's been a rough couple of weeks for the Republic, and I suspect that all American patriots are feeling a bit exhausted and discouraged. Take a break. Sit back and watch the video below of the greatest horses in the world. This is the actual Reitschule in Vienna. Some of us have seen the American Lipizzaners perform under the trade name of "The World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions," and I have nothing to say against them, but there's nothing like video of the Austrian performance.

My love for the Lipizzaners was kindled originally when I was about seven by this wonderful book by justly famed horse author Marguerite Henry. Alois Podhajsky, a character in the book, was a real person who saved the Lipizzaners through and after World War II. If you think of buying the book for your children, be sure to buy the old hardcover with several paintings scattered throughout. I saw a paperback a few years ago that took those few gorgeous color paintings by Wesley Dennis and turned them into black and white, presumably to save money. (Harrumph.) The book also has many wonderful drawings. A copy would be especially prized if it had the color endpapers showing a painting of the quadrille. The copy I own now has blank endpapers, though I had somehow as a child a copy with the picture endpapers.

My own all-too-short season of riding lessons is wrapping up as we move toward the cold and driver-unfriendly Michigan winter. It looks as though I will be able to start back up in the spring, five months or so from now, at which point I will doubtless be woefully out of shape and will have to learn a lot of things over again. As the rawest of beginners, I look at the things they are doing in this video as if they were magic. One notices odd things when one has even a tiny bit of experience: If my horse ever went that close to a wall, I'd be shying myself, afraid of getting a leg crushed. I cannot imagine how they work so many stallions that close together. It's astounding. Most people are most impressed by the Airs Above the Ground. Not to say anything against the Airs Above the Ground, but I think the quadrille is the most impressive part of the show.

The Lipizzan stallions of Vienna.

Comments (19)

I had the privilege of seeing the Lipizzaners once. Simply, utterly amazing.

(Excited questioning.) You went to Vienna and got to see them? If so, Sunday performance or morning training session? Were they letting people go into the stables afterwards? It seems like every time I go to the web site of the Reitschule, it says something like, "Due to the danger of spreading disease to the stallions, this year nobody will be allowed to go into the stables after performances," or words to that effect.

I've been wondering about visits to Piber, the national stud farm. It looks as though it may not even be possible to go and see the white mothers and black foals in the meadows anymore. The Piber web site says something like, "A day trip includes a tour of the stables and an opportunity to see a video." Probably not worth going to Styria for, sad to say. But if the world has gotten nasty enough that this is necessary to protect the mares and foals, it's okay with me. Hans, the boy in the book, got to go and run around in the meadows with the mares. :-) I can't quite figure out when the book is set--1950's, perhaps.

No, they were in the States; wish I could have seen them in their home! Have you seen the superb movie made about the story in the book? I can't remember the name of it off-hand.

Majestic :o

My _guess_ is that you saw the American stallions. The Austrian ones rarely travel to the U.S., but there is an American group that does a lot of tours and has been doing so for about thirty years. They are the ones most people have seen; I was privileged to see them in Nashville about seventeen years ago or so.

The Disney movie is called _Miracle of the White Stallions_. Is that the one you mean? I've not heard of a movie of the story in the Henry book, specifically. The story in the Marguerite Henry book is about a baker's son who becomes a rider in the Riding School. _Miracle of the White Stallions_ is about the danger the horses were in during WWII and also about how the mares were rescued from Russian territory by the American soldiers at the end of the war. The movie is important, despite Robert Taylor's rather stilted and almost amusing performance as Podhajsky, because it contains actual footage of Podhajsky riding. From a distance, you aren't supposed to be able to tell the difference between him and Taylor. :-) In one of his books, Podhajsky recounted that Taylor, despite his experience acting in Westerns, was nervous about riding a Lipizzaner stallion, so they gave him an older one who was very calm. Podhajsky's own stallion at the time was younger and therefore had a gray mane. (They turn completely white gradually as they grow older.) He wondered whether people would notice the difference between the two horses in the close-up shots (where Taylor never had to do anything difficult) and in the performance footage.

It could be, Lydia, though I'm pretty sure they were billed as the real deal. I'll check with my mom, but this was way back when I was a kid, and she may remember less about it than I do! (We have occasional interesting moments of one us remembering something quite distinctly that the other is sure never happened . . . but perhaps when we have nearly 90 and nearly 60 decades respectively to recall this is not especially odd . . .) In any case, it was an amazing experience, as you can imagine. "Miracle of the White Stallions" sounds like the movie I remember. I don't remember the book very well, so I'm sure I'm just conflating them. I read everything Marguerite Henry wrote, and bought out the used bookstore of her books for the grandbabies one year.


Added to my Favorites, Lydia. When I was fresh out of school, I signed up with a riding academy in Andover. 12 weeks. Really enjoyed learning to ride, and I still have my riding crop. Hoping when my two girls get a little older they'll provide an excuse for the old man to sign up the whole family.

John, if you can find a way to afford signing up your entire family for riding lessons, I'd be happy to hear it. They are _so_ expensive. I feel guilty about taking them. My 16-year-old makes me feel _really_ guilty about taking them when she doesn't.

Lydia, thank you for an utterly delightful Sunday feast. These are amazing animals and riders.

There is something infinitely fascinating, and strangely moving, in all such examples of cooperation between man & animal.

I must admit to a certain prejudice against horses. They get all the attention, 'cause they're so pretty, while the despised donkey, so much smarter & more personable, lingers in the shade.

But there's no denying that these are beautiful creatures.

The charm of a donkey is a real charm, but different in kind. When I think of a donkey, I think of a creature that is fairly small (compared to a horse), soft-muzzled, hard-working, etc. One can't imagine a donkey doing dressage, though I suppose it would be fun to try to teach one. With a very small rider. But the donkey's whole atmosphere is different--un-magnificent and lovable.

When I was young my mother was a fan of the Lippanzan stallions. I read Margurite Henry's book - along with all of her other books on horses - and I still have the White Stallion of Lipizza. When I was about 11, the Spanish Riding School came to Chicago. My Mom did not have enough money for us kids to see them so she arranged to have my sister and I watch their warm-up early in the afternoon thanks to our neighbor who was a Chicago Fire Captain in charge of making sure everything was up to code for the performance. I have a photo of my sister and I watching a horse and rider practice with the horse and rider included in the picture and now I am wondering who it was. I looked for the program since I have a stack of programs from all of the ballets, operas, etc. that she atteneded, but I don't have it.

Didn't the rescuing of the Lipizzaners by the American forces have something to do with General Patton? I may have that episode confused with some other effort to keep the barbarian Russians from getting their hands on something they would only trash.

Yep. It was General Patton. Podhajsky had been very unhappy at the decision to send the mares so far away. If I recall correctly, the decision was made by someone working with the Germans. When the American troops occupied Austria, they came to the castle where the Lipizzaners had gone. (Podhajsky had had a lot of trouble getting the Germans to let them out of Vienna.) They put on a performance for them and then asked Patton to help get the mares out of territory that had been assigned to the Russians. The Americans did have to go just over the line into territory that had been given to the Russians, but they brought the mares back. In fact, they brought _too many_ mares--a bunch of non-Lipizzaners that belonged to the Italian and other governments as well and had been mixed in with the Lipizzaner mares. Podhajsky had to feed them all--a daunting task--until he got their own governments to take them back.

Any Slovenes out there? Remember the original stud farm is located in Slovenia at Lipica (which is pronounced Lipizza).

Finally - there is a farm in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago that has a group of Lipizzaners and American riders - one Austrian I think. It has been a few years since I brought my kids to see a show so I don't know how they are doing with the economy and all.

I did a google search and this is the latest article on them. There were many more. If you can't get to Austria, this could be the next best thing.


John, if you can find a way to afford signing up your entire family for riding lessons, I'd be happy to hear it.

Sigh. All too true. When I took my courses, the woman in charge of the academy asked only $36 for four hour lessons over the course of four weeks. I didn't even have a full time job at the time and I was able to pay for three months.

Last time I passed a stable up in Franconia, New Hampshire, I think they were asking $30 for a lousy half hour. (Most of us take that long just to get on the horse without breaking our necks.)

So, your point is well taken.

That said, I have noticed that there are more and more stables up in the north country, so maybe that will foster some rate wars as time goes on.

In 1990 I visited what was then Yugoslavia, but it now rightfully Slovenia,and had the pleasure of seeing the ORIGINAL Lippizaners at the stud farm in Lipica. In addition to a performance by some of the stallions, I was able to tour the stables, see the stallions up close, and talk with some of the stablehands about the horses. I also saw the mares out in the field with the foals. To make money for the stud farm, they have a resort and golf course on the property. This was just a few months before Yugoslavia broke apart and Slovenia (and Croatia) became independent countries.

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