Waltzing in a New Year with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna and Friends

Ralph Lauren Spanish Riding School

What happened when Ralph Lauren went to Vienna to check out the Spanish Riding School? A holiday fashion line piaffed down the runway; dressage was the premise of a fashion spread. (opener image from Ralph Lauren Magazine)

Does art imitate life, or does it become hard to tell, after a while, if it is more likely life that is imitating art?

Fashion designer Ralph Lauren recently tipped his hand-stitched hat to the Spanish Riding School with a spread in his magazine, and an intimation that the Lipizzaners and their riders had been the inspiration for his holiday fashion line this season. Like everyone else, he loves the stallions, their riders, and their beautiful Winter Riding School because it has hardly changed over the centuries.

When you’ve been doing things the same way for 430 years, generating press can be a tough assignment. The Spanish Riding School of Vienna is famous for not changing–not much, anyway–and, as such, is not in the news as much as you’d expect a hallowed institution of its position to be. You could imagine a New Yorker cartoon illustrating a long succession of press officers at the School, all fired because there was no news about the School in the press.

And then one plucky new-hire press officer comes along and writes the story that says just that: “Nothing’s new at the Spanish Riding School. And we wouldn’t want it any other way.” It’s a Mad Men moment for an almost-holy herd of Lipizzaners.

Ralph Lauren would nod in agreement.

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But if you happened to be in Vienna ten days before Christmas, you’d have seen something new. The famed Lipizzaner horses shared their arena footing with the Vienna Boys Choir. The stallions trotted obediently around the tweens, who didn’t seem to notice them much. The horses focused on their hoofwork. The boys focused on their high notes.

Vienna Boys Choir singers with Spanish Riding School Lipizzaner stallion

Vienna Boys Choir singers got to kick up some footing with a Spanish Riding School Lipizzaner stallion for this photo. The two Viennese institutions presented a joint performance on December 14 and will repeat it in March 2014. Note the boots on the boy at front left: smart kid! Have the others removed their shoes? (Spanish Riding School photo)

Just another day in Vienna? Not quite. The two venerable institutions have hooked up for a series of co-starring concert/performances. Called “A Tribute to Vienna”, these special events even have added music that the horses and boys have never heard before. Two new pieces have been added to the Vienna Boys’ Choir’s repertoire: the Bandit’s Gallop and the famous Radetzky Marsch by Johann Strauss I. Additionally, the boys intonate the Trish Trash Polka as the Lipizzaners strut their stuff.

The horses, presumably, just hum along.

Vienna Boys Choir at Spanish Riding School in Vienna

A removable floor covering--or perhaps a giant stall mat--gave the Vienna Boys Choir something firm to stand on during a set that had them singing in the arena. (Spanish Riding School photo)

Their next performance together won’t be until March, although the stallions will have some of their classic performances scheduled between now and then. Their calendar also calls for a road trip to Sweden in April and a lengthy trip to London with extra performances in Sheffield, England for October and November. At those performances, the audience will have the chance to attend a master class and see a ride by British Olympic dressage gold medalist Carl Hester and Para dressage multi-gold medalist Lee Pearson.

As I’m writing this on Monday morning, the horses are probably being tacked up for the December 30 performance; there’s one tomorrow, as well. But then on Wednesday, all eyes in Vienna turn to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and its grand traditional New Year’s Day Concert. PBS will broadcast it in the USA, as will networks in 89 other nations.

Lipizzaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna

"Hey, did you hear we have the day off?" Lipizzaner stallions in Vienna don't perform on New Year's Day. That day belongs to the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, whose concert will be broadcast in 90 nations around the world. (Emmanuelle Contini photo, via Flickr)

New Years Day with the Vienna Philharmonic is to music what the Super Bowl is to football. Instead of a Budweiser Clydesdale commercial, there might be a mention or film clip showing the stallions in their stables, enjoying a day off.

Underneath that calm Lipizzaner exterior beats an ambitious heart, though. The Spanish Riding School’s wish list includes packing up the horses and going on tour to the Middle East and Russia, according to an interview in Ralph Lauren’s magazine.

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They’d better hurry. From the other side of the world comes news that an oversized replica of the famed Winter Riding School in Vienna has been built at the Heilan Equestrian Club in China. Thousands of Chinese patrons are treated to a tribute to the Spanish Riding School of Vienna each night. Dozens of horses bring dressage consciousness to a country where the world was seldom, if ever, heard ten years ago. The imported horses are ridden by women who had never been on a horse five years ago.

Is it the Spanish Riding School of Vienna? No. But it wants to be. Ralph Lauren could probably tell the difference.

And that is all the proof you need that the Spanish Riding School can make news by not doing anything differently today than it did 400 years ago. That’s obviously still news in itself, and hopefully always will be.

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World Horse Welfare campaign bluntly asks horse owners: “Do you really need to breed?”

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It’s the elephant in the barn aisle. Horse owners tip toe around the question, never quite daring to mouth the words.

When a friend announces to you that he or she is perusing the stallion ads for a prospective mating to a beloved mare, what’s the polite answer?

A British horse charity is asking the not-so-polite one, and turning some heads as they question, “Do you really need to breed?”

And many of us are responding, “Well, it depends…”

There is no question that indiscriminate and unplanned breeding is rampant among non-pro owners. There are too many stallions; most breeds in the United States have no stallion testing or approval processes and the excuse of “not getting around” to gelding, or objection on cultural grounds, is often heard. The number of mares judged to be in foal, along with mares with foals at their sides, that are going through horse auctions is another disturbing fact.

We have subsidized castration clinics for people with financial limitations, and some veterinary clinics report their reproduction services are down, but we still see a flood of “stallion issues” and “foal issues” spring from the presses each spring as horse magazines continue to portray breeding one’s mare as an emotional enterprise as well as an animal husbandry undertaking.

The widespread availability of artificial insemination has meant that it is easier than ever to book a long-distance mating to the stallion of your dreams. Yet there is a difference between people who breed a mare because, as one owner told me, “I want the kids to experience birth and raising a foal” and people who own a good mare, invest in the semen of a better stallion, and genuinely want to produce their next riding or show horses.

The advent of embryo transfer has meant that a single valuable mare can produce multiple embryos each year that can be transferred to a surrogate mare. The star mare can even go on competing, as we saw in Great Britain with Rolex Kentucky winner Headley Brittania.

With 7,000 horses in Britain — and many times that many in the USA — deemed at risk of needing rescue or new homes, World Horse Welfare‘s new campaign aims to help horse owners understand the impacts, costs and risks associated with breeding.

And it’s sure to strike a nerve with horse owners who believe that it shouldn’t apply to them. Still others will object because they fear that their freedoms are being challenged, or that professional breeders want to cut out the competition of amateurs, who may sell their young stock below perceived values.

Research conducted by the charity showing that collectively, twice as many foals were produced by those who had bred only one to five foals in their lifetimes than by those who had bred over 100 each.

“Professional breeders, dealers and the racing industry are often blamed for producing too many horses, and while this may be true, the numbers appear to be reducing in line with the current market,” says Roly Owers, Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare. “Evidence suggests that in racing alone numbers have reduced by 25%.”

“With these bigger players, you would think that those who produce just one foal, or a couple in their lifetimes, aren’t making an impact. But our research shows that this just isn’t the case – each horse owner makes an impact and we hope our initiative will help guide them through the considerations of breeding in a compassionate, realistic and informative way.

“It is vital that every group acknowledges their contribution to the problem and takes steps to rectify it.”

According to the breeding survey from World Horse Welfare that was completed by nearly 4,000 horse owners in the UK, almost a quarter of respondents had bred from the horses they currently own, producing a total of 4,129 foals, and many more were hoping to breed in the future. Respondents breeding just 1-5 foals each were responsible for over a third of all the foals bred.

With thousands of people all doing the same, this means a huge number of extra horses born every year; every foal born increases the chance of neglect either to that horse directly or by taking up a valuable home and thus pushing another horse into an awful situation. World Horse Welfare witnesses first hand just how the breeding of foals can lead to abandonment and severe neglect, the charity has already seen a 40% increase in the number of horses coming into its centers in 2013.

Overall, the top five reasons why people bred from their horse were:

  • To produce a foal to compete on in the future.
  • Because the horse had a nice nature.
  • To continue the horse’s bloodline.
  • To produce a foal they could use for leisure riding or driving in the future.
  • Because the horse had a good competition record.

Owers continues: “No matter what steps you take to produce a healthy foal, it is always possible that he or she could be born with, or develop a problem. Even a top quality mare and stallion can produce a foal with conformational, developmental or behavioral problems. There is no guarantee that the foal you breed will be suitable for its intended role.

Half of respondents who had bred from their stallion did so to produce a horse that could be brought on and sold in the future.

“Horses are the same as anything else in that the more there are, the less money they sell for. When horses are readily available for little money, some being sold for as little as £5, this often leads to unscrupulous people taking advantage of the situation.

“Breeding a foal can be a wonderfully rewarding experience. However, it is important to consider all the potential problems before making the decision, and whether there may be a better option.”

The intimacy of raising and training a foal, as well as the strong appeal of foals for their cuteness and amusing behavior, are usually secondary to horse owners' confidence that they can and will breed a superior horse.

World Horse Welfare’s message is that your choices as a horse owner can make a real difference to many horses’ lives, not only to reduce the amount of neglect, but also to make it easier for horses to find good, safe homes in the future.

Most of World Horse Welfare’s work is widely supported and tends to benefit horses that have been the object of abuse or neglect, horses being shipped long distance to slaughter, safety for sport and racing horses, or even advances in veterinary research or horsecare education in developing countries. But with this move, World Horse Welfare points the finger at the very people who have been sustaining the organization — British horse owners — and asks them to consider that they might be part of the problem.

“Need to Breed” also will cross some lines when asking for the support of the veterinary community; vet practices profit from backyard breeders, and when vets do try to discourage owners from breeding, they often get doors slammed in their faces. Should you breed an Icelandic mare to an Akhal-Teke stallion? Don’t laugh, it’s the kind of question that veterinarians run into all the time.

Perusing the weekly offerings of the Camelot Horse Auction in New Jersey, photographed poignantly by Sarah K. Andrew, will show you a portfolio of horses whose breeders, whether pro or amateur, felt the need to create a horse. But someone, somewhere down the line was unable to give that horse the home and care it needed. Camelot and its generous network of horse owners give these horses another chance, but they are the cream of a bumper crop of unwanted horses.

If you are planning to breed from your horse or you know someone that is, please, pass on World Horse Welfare’s leaflet which outlines some important points for consideration and please, think long and hard: do you Need to Breed?

Visit World Horse Welfare’s webpage to find out more about the ‘Need to Breed?’ initiative, where you can access the leaflet and watch the video: www.worldhorsewelfare.org/needtobreed

Leave a comment here on The Jurga Report to share your opinion.

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Just watch it: “Nature” Documentary on Spanish Riding School Lipizzaners Premieres May 1 on PBS

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We interrupt this most busy of horse sports weeks to slow you down and make you sigh. “Aaaaaahhhhh,” you’ll say. And for one hour you will forget how excited you were this weekend about Andrew Nicholson winning the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event in Lexington. You’ll forget the elation of learning that the USA’s Beezie Madden had won the FEI 2013 World Cup of Show Jumping for the USA for the second year in a row.

Watch NATURE’s Legendary White Stallions airing
Wednesday, May 1 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).

You’ll even forget the surprise and the smile that spread across your face when you heard that Germany’s lovely, calm and supple Westphalian stallion Damon Hill NRW had won the FEI 2013 Reem Acra Dressage World Cup with Helen Langehanenberg.

courbette © PBS Nature

A Lipizzaner stallion performing the courbette, courtesy of PBS Nature, from the documentary to air May 1 on the PBS network.

That sigh comes just as you catch your breath from all last week’s excitement and prepare for the equally-breathless coming weekend of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials in England (with two riders vying for the Rolex Grand Slam) and that great raceday for the USA, the Kentucky Derby.

The pause and the sigh are important because, when you come right down to it, the tradition and history of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna ties all those events together, by pointing toward the past. All those sports are related to the value of the horse in war and sports were, after all, devised to prove which rider, breeder, army or nation had bred and trained the best horses for battle and military use.

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For centuries in Europe, each nation had its own system, its own specific breeding plan, its own special skills. Austria has excelled at keeping the past alive through the Lipizzaner stallions that still train in the middle of the great city of Vienna.

Sure, you already know all about the Lipizzaners and the Riding School and the movements, the quadrille, the uniforms, the music. But this hour-long PBS documentary is more than a travelogue of Vienna or a bucket list stopover for horse lovers.

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I’ve probably written as many or more articles about the Spanish Riding School as anyone–in the English-speaking world, at least. But when I previewed the show, I found that the producers and writers who designed this documentary found some new ways of looking at them.

The horses are portrayed not as an anachronism, not as a living music box of twirling horses and riders, but as a flowing continuation of historical breeding and training wrapped in a cultural quilt that is as international and contemporary as any modern art museum or stage performance.

Take a fresh look at the Spanish Riding School and remember how much you already knew and how much more there is to learn. Join me in front of our televisions on Wednesday night, May 1, when the PBS Nature series takes us to Vienna for the ride of our lives.

About the show: Nature is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET in New York for PBS.  For Nature, Fred Kaufman is executive producer.  Legendary White Stallions is a production of ScienceVision and Satel Film in co-production with Servus TV, Terra Mater Factual Studios and THIRTEEN in association with WNET.

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Oscar Pistorius’ Race Against Horse Turns Into Equine Welfare Controversy over Whip Abuse

Oscar Pistorius

Is everything about Oscar Pistorius controversial? Do his artificial limbs give him an advantage over "able-limbed" runners? Should he have been allowed in the Olympics? The latest controversy surrounding the double-amputee South African athlete questions the treatment of the horse that ran against him in a "Man vs Horse" race in Qatar. (Photo by David Ian Roberts)

Man vs horse? Hardly.

The horse beaten in the “Run Like the Wind” race experienced being beaten in more than one meaning of the word “beaten”.

Sports promotion for the sake of publicity sparked a new controversy yesterday when South African “blade runner” Oscar Pistorius was pitted against an Arabian stallion named Maserati in a double-track race in Doha, Qatar.

To begin with, Pistorius was allowed to take a head start, while the horse’s rider held back his mount. Journalists’ reports of the distance vary from 15 (USA Today) to 30 (Gulf Times) meters.

An outraged roar could be heard around the world when a video of the “race” was released to media and posted on the web.

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The South African SPCA was outraged at the treatment of the horse, which it says was “unnecessarily and cruelly whipped from start to finish”.

Allan Perrins, Chief Executive Officers of Cape of Good Hope SPCA in South Africa commented, “If this incident were to have happened in South Africa, the rider, organizers and all participants including Oscar would have been charged with cruelty to animals and, if found guilty, have faced some very serious consequences – not least of all reputational damage.”

Perrins had some sympathy for the runner, however: “In our opinion, this incident has defeated the purpose of Oscar’s message and tarnished his otherwise wholesome image and I am almost sure that when he examines the footage he too will be horrified by the rider’s apparent indifference and would want to disassociate himself from the rider’s misbehavior.”

Pistorius was quick to respond: “I participated in the race in good faith as it was to promote abilities across sport and I was totally unaware of any alleged excessive force being used on the horse. I don’t condone any ill-treatment of animals and would always hope that a horse would be ridden in the correct way. Those who know me well are very aware of my well-publicized care and love of animals.”

Today, Tony Tyler, Deputy Chief Executive of World Horse Welfare issued a statement about the event:

“World Horse Welfare are appalled at the way the jockey used the whip, which was not only completely unnecessary but utterly barbaric. Excessive whip use like this is a disgrace to racing as a sport. We applaud the achievements of Oscar Pistorius and his race could have been a great spectacle, but instead it was marred by the flagrant abuse of this horse.

“We commented on the race beforehand to say we didn’t see any immediate welfare concerns providing the horse was treated well. Clearly it wasn’t.”

Jesse Owens raced a horse

Jesse Owens, winner of four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, beat a Standardbred. (Ohio State University photo archives)

You don’t need a degree in biomechanics to know that you or I, let alone Oscar Pistorius, can run faster over a track-and-field type synthetic track like the one laid for Pistorius in Doha. The horse, meanwhile, was running on a sand strip. Kudos to Runners World’s Scott Douglas, who discounted the race for this fact, along with the other factors mentioned.

And the distance? In a mere 200 meters, the horse didn’t even have a chance to hit his stride. Quarter horses sprint at a minimum of 220 yards, which is approximately 200 meters, but this horse was an Arabian–built for endurance, not sprinting. And he’d been whipped before the race even began.

The SPCA is leaving the case open: “(We) still would like assurances that the horse will be examined by an equine veterinarian to ensure that it suffered no lasting injuries,” read a closing message on the group’s web site.

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Totilas and Rath Cancel US Competition Plans for World Dressage Masters Palm Beach

The following information is a press release.

Wellington, FL (January 6, 2012) – Organizers of the World Dressage Masters presented by Axel Johnson Group have been informed that the stallion Totilas and his rider Matthias Rath of Germany will be unable to attend the WDM Palm Beach presented by International Polo Club Palm Beach, which is set to take place January 26th to 28th.

“I received a call this morning from Paul Schockemöhle, one of the owners of Totilas,” said WDM Palm Beach organizer Noreen O’Sullivan of Wellington Classic Dressage. “I am very sorry to announce that Totilas will not be able to compete in this year’s World Dressage Masters Palm Beach. The owners feel the horse has just returned to light work after an injury and would not be ready for this event. We have already invited Totilas and Matthias to our 2013 WDM event. The owners and Matthias were very disappointed they would not be able to attend this year’s WDM Palm Beach but also said they look forward to accepting our invitation for next year if the horse is going well.”

Totilas, the current world record holder in the Grand Prix Freestyle and the only horse to score over 90%, is also the reigning World Champion under his previous rider, Edward Gal of the Netherlands. Rath was partnered with the 12 year old KWPN stallion in late 2010 after Totilas was purchased by renowned Olympic show jumper and breeder Paul Schockemöhle, in co-ownership with Olympic dressage rider Ann-Kathrin Linsenhoff, who is Rath’s stepmother. Rath was forced to withdraw from the CDI-W Frankfurt in December 2011 after Totilas suffered a minor injury.

“Totilas twisted a joint in his leg a few weeks ago, just two days before the Frankfurt show,” Schockemöhle explained. “The horse was lame and was treated by the vet, but still lame after four weeks. The vet asked that the horse be walked again for ten days during Christmas, and is just starting back in light work. We really feel the time is too short for the horse to be in top form for the Masters. Our main focus is for the horse, and this is very important.”

Schockemöhle also pointed out that with 2012 being an Olympic year, giving Totilas the full time needed to recover is even more critically important. “We are very sorry that Totilas will not be able to compete at the Palm Beach Masters.”

“It is very unfortunate that Totilas will not be joining us in Palm Beach, but the welfare of the horse must prevail,” says WDM Managing Director John van de Laar. “We have a special relationship with the Linsenhoff Rath Family and we wish to see Totilas in top form soon. We are glad that Totilas will return for 2013. We also have some big news to be announced before the WDM Palm Beach regarding a special qualifier for the U 21 Grand Prix, for riders under age 21.”

The withdrawal of Totilas from the WDM Palm Beach will not affect the calibre of competition or entertainment value of this spectacular not-be-missed dressage event of the Florida season. The World Dressage Masters is the world’s richest and most prestigious dressage series; since its inception it has drawn the best of the best to its four annual competitions. The WDM Palm Beach is the only WDM competition to take place outside of Europe. Many of Europe’s best dressage horses and riders will join an impressive line up of North American pairs to vie for €100,000 (US $130,000) in prize money at the 2012 WDM Palm Beach, including defending WDM Palm Beach champions Steffen Peters and Ravel.

Peters, who is the only American to win the World Cup Dressage Final on North American soil, will face a strong rival in Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, members of the team that won a historic first gold medal for Britain at the 2011 European Dressage Championships. At the European Championships, Dujardin announced her arrival on the world stage in the Grand Prix by finishing fourth, just half a percentage point behind third placed Totilas. This will be Dujardin’s and Valegro’s first appearance in North American dressage competition. They will arrive in Florida hot off a victory at the CDI-W London in December, where they won the Grand Prix, beating the individual silver medalists from the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris of Great Britain. Valegro, at only ten years of age, is already considered by many to be the next star of international dressage.

In light of Totilas’ withdrawal from the 2012 WDM Palm Beach, WDM’s organizers are already working quickly to replace him. “We are working hard on another top Athlete/Horse combination that we feel the dedicated US fans will appreciate,” said van de Laar, who has invited Dujardin’s European Championship team mate and mentor Carl Hester, who also won individual silver at the 2011 European Championships.

“We are in talks with Carl, who has expressed a keen interest in attending the WDM Palm Beach,” said O’Sullivan. “We are hoping to confirm his participation on this short notice.” The current number one ranked rider on the Nürnberger WDM Rider Rankings, Germany’s Anja Plönzke, has already confirmed that she and Le Mont D’Or will return to the WDM Palm Beach for the third consecutive year.

With just three weeks to go before the WDM Palm Beach gets under way, a very small number of VIP tables remain on sale. For information on pricing and availability go to www.internationalpoloclub.com, or contact Maria Feola at 561-282-5334, 561-282-5301 or mfe...@internationalpoloclub.com.

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