Morgenarbeit (morning training) at the Spanish Riding School offers a chance to see the wonderful Lipizzaners put through their paces without you having to attend (or pay for) a full-blown performance, though you still need to buy a ticket.
- Watch training with music and professional commentary
- The Lipizzaner stallions and their riders leave a remarkable impression (and I speak as a horse agnostic)
- Usually takes place on various weekdays (with some breaks for horse holidays)
- An evening training may also be available to watch
- See also: Spanish Riding School ticket tips
Morning training – a review
(A riding school from around 1645. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Horses and I enjoy a mutual non-agression pact. I keep clear of them and they keep clear of me. So you might think me the last person to want to spend an hour watching Lipizzaners prance around the winter riding school for their morning training.
I went in thinking the same, but came out quite moved by the whole experience.
Even the uninformed observer can see that these stallions possess a special presence, an almost other-worldly nobility, and the kind of poise and bearing you get from supreme athletes at the peak of their career. They bring a new meaning to the term, horsepower.
Combine the above with uniformed riders, some light classical music, an 18th-century riding school arena, and a centuries’ old tradition of horsemanship and you have something bordering on the majestic.
And this is just training.
So what actually happens at a Morgenarbeit?
The schedule depends on current training hours and needs, but this is what I experienced: four 30-minute training units, each with a different set of horses. The stallions warmed up, trained, and warmed down, all while accompanied by classical Viennese tunes. Which sounds a little meh (neigh?).
The training programme gives you a wonderful feel for the rider-horse bond, which appears almost telepathic.
You also experience the skills of the horses first hand. The old pros, for example, glide through complicated steps like it’s second nature (which I’m guessing it is).
We were privileged to witness one stallion training the courbette jump and his success drew genuine “oohs” of admiration from onlookers. (We also got to see two of the very rare dark stallions, which make up only 1% of the Lipizzaner population.)
Each horse seemed to have a different character and, often, a different coiffeur.
Watching the training reveals lots of little delightful moments. For example:
- A rider in brown tails and bicorne hat slipping their horse a little treat after some successful move
- The senior riders doffing their hat on entering the arena
- Training on the long rein with no rider, with the horse still following perfect discipline
- Assistants appearing immediately to clear away when a horse loses a bit of excess weight out its back end (I’m trying to be polite)
- The dismount, when the horses line up and get a warm rug put over them before a groom escorts them back to their stables
Call me sentimental, but the music starting up gave me a shiver of emotion, too.
Occasional bursts of commentary through loudspeakers, in both German and English, explain what you’ve just seen (or are about to see), so you’re not left to ponder quite what is happening in front of you.
All-in-all, the Morgenarbeit left me with a new appreciation for the riding tradition, the work of the Spanish Riding School, and the prowess of the stallions.
Perhaps me and horses might reach a better understanding, after all.
(A Mounted Grey Horse Being Schooled in Piaffe. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Quick visitor tips
- Morning training takes place on weekdays from 10am, but not every day. The trainings also tend to take a break now and then for the horses to get a well-earned holiday
- The school has sometimes added an evening training to the weekly schedule, so perhaps may do so again
- Last time I checked, the training was reduced to a one-hour timeframe
- Even in February, when Vienna turns relatively quiet, quite a queue built up as we approached the starting time. If you want the best seats, be sure to get there early.
- Since the training is relatively informal, you can come in later or leave earlier without fear of appearing rude. Note that kids under 3 cannot go in.
- Each session had something different, so don’t rush your visit. On our trip, for example, the jump practice only appeared in the third session.
- Given the high demand at times, booking a ticket in advance* might make sense.
How to get to the Spanish Riding School
See the ticket tips article for travel advice for reaching the riding school.
Address: Michaelerplatz 1, 1010 Vienna