Sunday, November 06, 2005

Spanish Riding School Tour 2005 - Standing Ovation in Columbus for the Lipizzaners and their Riders!


I am and always have been an unabashed admirer of the Lipizzaners and the Spanish Riding School. So this review will be somewhat biased and I am going to admit it - upfront. However, that being said, this was a once in a lifetime experience and if you love horses it is a must see event.

If you can organize a group of horsey friends to attend so much the better. Even a group of dog/horse liking friends would enjoy this up-close look at animal training at its finest. I went with my sister even more horse snake bit than myself and three other horse friends. One an arabian enthusiast like me - for some reason Arabian people have a special affinity for Lipizzaners - and two quarter horse people who were simply amazed by what they saw.

We were able to attend a special clinic ahead of time. The clinic was held two hourse before the performance. This clinic was led by the chief rider. He explanied the training methods used at the school and how young horses are started and finished into school horses. He had a young horse come out that was not part of the show, except for a brief part of airs above the ground unsaddled. He was dark grey another clue to his young age. He is a beautiful horse with very correct conformation and elastic gaits. The plan with young horses is to start them only to go forward willingly at the various gaits. Interestingly, he was worked with an older horse who was very unsettled by the trip and the surroundings. The skittish behavior of the older horse gave his rider a special opportunity to show off the "glued seat" of the SRS riders. Amazing - nine out ten accomplished riders would have been unseated by this guy's antics, on one of his last dips and swings the rider actually laughed while guiding his horse back to it's correct trot.

The show itself highlights the various gaits and abilities of the horses. There is a marvelous pax de deux with two horses working passage and inricate patterns to classical music. Another daring feat "airs above the ground" on horseback with no stirrups - don't try this at home in your indoor arena! While some might think bull riders are brave, these riders are brave, strong and skillful as they convince thier stallions to fly and then ride them with such finesse.

A Quadrille with eight stallions and riders set to Mozart's music is breathtaking and beautiful. Since ours was their first performance after getting off the plane, the horses were a little excited. One stallion took a some convincing from his rider that the quadrille meant trot not canter. He soon settled down as his patient rider simply worked with him in the pattern until he quieted to a trot.

The master rider on a simply stunning white stallion with flowing mane and tail performed all of the exercises with one hand, under a spotlight in a darkened arena, it is a sight we will never forget. Remember there is a double bridle, so we are talking about four reins in one hand. The quarter horse folks thought it might be a precursor to reining, but I think it was so the cavalry man could hold a sword!

More than the airs above the ground, more than the intricate steps, what impresses the ordinary rider the most about this performance is the patience, kindness and grace of the riders. How they communicate with these beautiful horses so softly and effortlessly, the most demanding and intricate gaits with barely a detectable move of their hand or legs.

It was common when the riders were working from the ground to see them pat their horse and then reach back under their coat tails for a treat for the horse. The affection and respect between horses and riders was apparent. While all of us cannot achieve the level of skill produced by a 400 year old training program, we can emulate the patience and respect that these trainers demonstrate for their beautiful charges. If you get a chance to attend the tour will be visiting St. Louis, Missouri, November 12 and 13, Washington DC, November 19 and 20, Phildelphia PA, November 25 and 26, Atlanta GA, December 3 and 4 and Houston TX, December 10 and 11. For more information or for a video of their performance their url is:


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