A week after the birth, the mare and foal return to the main breeding herd. Six months later, all that season’s young foals are separated from the mothers and form their own herd. And another six months later, the male foals join the colt herd, where they remain for another 2 to 3 years.
During these early years, the horses are under constant observation and supervision, and also enjoy the summer months roaming “free” on alpine pastures. This social and physical environment allows the horses to develop those skills they’ll need later if they’re to make it as performance stallions: build, stamina, dexterity etc.
Aged 3½, the horses undergo a selection process to judge their suitability for the Spanish Riding School. Key criteria include their genealogy, constitution, size, build, natural ability and willingness to keep smiling while signing autographs. (One of those I made up.)
For more info on the early years of the stallions, see the Piber website.
The very best (about six each year) transfer to Vienna, where they enter a training program which lasts up to eight years before the stallions are considered suitable for public performances. Each horse has its own specialty – so it’s trained for a specific move.
Though a horse might work with apprentices and senior riders, each has its own designated (student) rider and the two form a lifelong partnership. For more on the training program, see the Spanish Riding School website.
There are around 60 stallions at the school at any one time. Though they work hard, they live an opulent lifestyle (for a horse). Each has a stable measuring 3m by 3m, with 24 hour supervision. They eat organic food, have their own dedicated city water supply, and the facilities include a solarium should they feel a little tired after a performance…
In the summer they get a holiday in the country at Heldenberg, Lower Austria. Retirement age is about 25, and because of their fitness, genetics and healthy upbringing, the stallions may live until 35.
(Photo credit: © PH-Art / Fotolia)