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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dream Boy!

NOTE: I apologize for the lack of posting lately. I started a new job last week and my head hurts from info overload and stress! I just today got to look at what's going on with the Derby field so I'm really behind. :-( I also have not made it back to the barn since I rode Penny, but I'm hoping to get there this weekend - that will DEFINITELY help my outlook on life, LOL!

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Tell me you've ever seen such fantastically gorgeous eyes on a horse before:

Oh. My. God. I can't take my own off them! They are SO enormous, so limpid and full of expression... I do think they are darn near the prettiest horse eyes I've ever seen. He is just AMAZINGLY beautiful! Does anyone else find it incredible that someone would give him up to the KHP?

*wipes drool off chin*

Whew, I need to pull myself together. Too much equine pulchritude in one package. I'm laughing - guess he turned up in case I needed another reason to go back to the Horse Park! There is absolutely no way I'm driving to Lexington again without visiting this guy. I was at the Horse Park, of course, for the WEG and the National Horse Show, but I didn't have time to actually "do" the exhibits. I have in the past, but it's been about 10 years. As you know I had plenty of other fun adventures down in Kentucky, but next time, I'm doing the KHP tour!

It's quite a coincidence that this video came up because I was planning to write a post soon on Lipizzans. I must confess, I have always had a huge soft spot for them. It all started with this book:
Not my copy, but mine is even more "loved"-looking!
I've read this so darn many times I'm surprised the spine is still intact. The whole story is so cool: boy loves horses. Boy (Hans) lives in Vienna, cheek-to-jowl with the Spanish Riding School, and knows something is going on in there that he wants to be a part of. He trains the only horse he's got (and yes, of course I was jealous of him for having any horse), sweet Rosie the bakery carthorse, to do a little piaffe - at least with her front legs :-). Boy sees the SRS perform and notices Maestoso Borina, the star of the show, capable of multiple courbettes in a row. They eventually come together and the magic continues.

Wesley Dennis's fabulous illustrations made this book come alive for me, as I'm sure is the case for all readers (what a blessed partnership, Marguerite and Wesley!). I pored over every detail, wondering what the sawdust in the ring smelled like... how smooth the deerskin saddles were... how soft those shining white coats were... how come the riders' legs never seemed to move, despite no stirrups... what the vision of synchronized white stallions moving as fluidly as poetry actually looked like. I don't remember if the word "dressage" was mentioned (and if I go to check you know I will wind up blowing a couple hours reading the entire thing yet again), but it wouldn't have mattered, because this kid growing up in the H/J world of New Jersey had never heard of it. In fact, I thought what the Spanish Riding School did on horseback was their very own special thing - I had no idea anyone else even tried! :-)

In case you doubt that I truly was mesmerized by the world of the SRS, here's the lunch box I carried for most of elementary school. My mother made it for me, and it's covered in various horse-related items. The Lipizzans on the back are directly from the book. I don't know if Mom freehanded the illustrations, or used tracing paper, but it certainly was a unique lunch accessory and I ADORED it:

Count this among the things I would try to rescue in a fire or tornado situation. It's a bit battered (even survived the one and only time I fought back against a bully and whomped her with it - made a most satisfying "Clang!"), but I'm sure you can see why I treasure it.

So we've established that I was/am crazy about Lipizzans. The Spanish Riding School tours the USA on occasion, and there are other troupes of Lipizzaners that put on shows, but of course, the ultimate goal for any fan would be to see them in their very own palace, the Spanische Hofreidschule in Vienna, Austria. You might think this would have been an unattainable goal for a little girl growing up in Monmouth County, NJ.... but you would be wrong. Because, dear readers, I DID go to Vienna and I DID get to see the white stallions, live and in person.

How did this miraculous event come about? My mom had a dear friend who worked for the US Army as a school counselor. Judy was stationed in Bad Tolz, a base of ours in southern Germany/Bavaria (about 25 miles south of Munich). My parents decided when I was in 9th grade to ship me over there for a month - sort of a do-it-yourself exchange student arrangement. I knew Judy and thought this was splendid idea, especially when I found out I would be not that far from Vienna. I'm sure my folks gave Judy a heads-up that there was a certain thing I really HAD to do, but immediately upon arrival I imagine I started dropping hints. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is all great, and that is a pretty church, but when are we going to Austria..."

I am exaggerating (God knows, or Judy probably would have put me on the first plane back), and I truly did enjoy everything I got to see and do over there, but you can bet by the time we finally did make it to Vienna I was in quite a state. Vienna is a gorgeous (and clean, or at least it was in the late 70s) city and I loved everything about it. But I really knew I was in the right place when I saw the wooden inlay art framed in our hotel room: two Lipizzan horses, performing their trademark "airs above the ground." I think Judy practically had to post guard over them so they didn't find their way into my suitcase!

The great day finally arrived and I set off by myself for the Riding School (Judy had been before so stayed behind. Quite an adventure right there for a 15-year-old to be turned loose in a foreign city, and I doubt my mother knew about it!). I was only able to afford a "standing room" ticket for the performance, which meant I would be standing up behind the people lucky enough to purchase seats directly on the balcony. No matter, just being there practically elevated me another foot. I was floating around on a cloud of happiness.

The hall of the SRS is exactly as lovely as you would imagine. It's not really all that large; when the horses were doing the quadrille, there didn't seem to be room for all of them. I was situated in about the third "bay" from the far end, right side of this photo:
When the stallions entered the ring, there was an audible gasp from the audience. As for me, it's a wonder I didn't faint dead away, standing on my tiptoes to see. The Lipizzaners! The real ones! Borina's relatives! Right there in front of me! Ever have one of those "out of body" experiences, when you just can't fathom that you actually are where you are? To add to the experience, someone who'd bought a balcony edge seat in front of me (actually a gilded velvet chair) didn't show up, and the extremely kind people around me all but pushed me into it. To this day, the thought of those nice people, looking at the teenager with stars in her eyes and realizing what was going on, making room for me - it still makes me cry. I spent the entire performance hanging over the edge of the balcony, feeling like I could almost reach out and touch the horses walking, trotting, cantering and doing the "airs" below.

I may not have truly appreciated the mastery of dressage that allows these horses and riders to do what they do so brilliantly, but I certainly could tell it was difficult. The part I had most looked forward to, honestly, was the airs above the ground. I wound up being ever-so-slightly disappointed. Mainly it was because they took place so quickly; I was used to staring at the picture of Hans and Borina in mid-courbette and I guess I thought there was significant "hang time" involved. Silly me. Now I'm glad to say that I would be much better able to understand the dressage aspect and the true beauty of the quadrille.

After the show I was allowed to go across the street into the Lipizzan's stable. I had been very, very worried about this, afraid something would happen and I wouldn't be there on the right day or somehow not allowed in. As it turned out, I had no problem. I was crushed to discover, though, they had tied the horses to rings in the back of their stalls, and all I could really see was a bunch of muscular white haunches! What? I wanted to pet some noses, darn it!

One of the stallions, bless him, came to my rescue. He somehow slipped out of his halter or broke his tie and got himself turned around, and happily nuzzled me when I made a beeline for his stall. I know, I know, I was asking for it sticking my hands/fingers right at a strange stallion, but somehow I had no fear (and I should have known better, as a story I'll tell another time will reveal). We had a few brief moments together - I believe I had time to plant a smacker on his adorable pink and grey nose - and then someone from the School came whipping down the aisle to shoo me away. I'm sure I blushed beet red but honestly, I didn't care - I'd gotten to touch one of the White Stallions of Lipizza and that was good enough for me. :-)

I took a bunch of photos of this whole experience, of course, and I wish I knew what happened to them. I know there were slides, because I was able to put together a really kick-ass 4-H Horse Project presentation (I'm sure people had done projects on Lipizanners before, but I was likely one of the few kids in NJ who'd ever seen them in person!) which earned me the top award at the state level. Again, not knowing where the photos are is okay: my trip to the Spanish Riding School is one of those memories that is firmly embedded. Definitely one of my happiest horsey times ever, and I look forward to meeting the gentleman at the KYP who will bring it all back!

1 comment:

  1. Your lunchbox is truly a treasure! I hope that my comments are coming through to you with some sort of continuity even if they will be garbled in the order of your blog archive. I wrote a little of my start riding at Tricorn farm on that post.

    In 1980 my mother left my father and we set out overseas each with one duffle bag. I was the youngest child and I guess at a certain point, with my older siblings out of the house, I just didn't present enough pull to hold it together anymore. First we went to England, and then took a ferry to France- and eventually rode the actual Orient Express to Vienna, where she decided to settle for a while and see if she could enroll in an art university there to study sculpture. We stayed at a pension in the city center while she looked for a furnished apartment, and I was allowed an unbelievable amount of freedom to roam for a kid of only 11. I loved to visit the carriage stands, and had taken a tour with a pair of fine hungaian greys named "Eylan and Eric" I loved the sound of the horse's steps as they crossed through the domed tunnel of the Hofburg Palace, and the smell of the rose garden. One day while out exploring in the first district- I caught the scent of horses, and thought I must be near another carriage stand. I stopped there on the quiet street and tried to discover the direction the smell came from. Then I heard the soft fluttery purr of a horse's snort. Over my head was a casement window propped open with little bars. I could not see over the sill- so I took hold of the barn and did a chin-up- and to my surprise was face to face with a Lippizan stallion in his stall- who doubtless was just as surprised as I was to encounter someone in the window. I was transfixed and hung on as long as I could. Relishing every silky white curve and the smells and sounds of their stable. I did not know that for just about a quarter i could have walked around the block and had a tour of the inside of the stable as you did. Eventually I did get to tour the barn, and see an excercise ride- although I never saw the famed Sunday performance in the year I lived in Vienna- I did love to time my trips down the street so I would be there when they led the horses from the stable to the riding hall.

    I haven't seen the old book for so long, but I still remember vividly the illustration of the horse who had human hands drawn on the ends of his legs rather than hooves- and how his young rider had been laughed at for not knowing that his horse had been playing a lazy horse joke on him.

    I continued my riding lessons there in Vienna, at the Wiener Hofreit Schule. My teacher was named Alexander Herring... Herr Herring.. that was funny to say. He was so handsome, it made me so much more nervous- couple that with the fact that my German was utterly not up to the level of taking dressage instruction. My initial riding assesment was a humiliation. I thought that I had mastered the basics after years at Tricorn, but when Herr herring saw my comical un-schooled attempt at posting- after regaining his composure (yes, he really did fall apart laughing) he right away snapped my horse Flecki on a longe line and took away my reins and stirrups.


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