Lipizzaner tour — Piber

Day 2 of our vacation was all about horses.  I had wanted to visit the Lipizzaner Stud at Piber since coming to Vienna, but I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  The farm is in a beautiful spot with a great view, so that was a good start.  We arrived, got our tickets, and followed the suggested self-guided tour, even though I was anxious to actually spend some time near the world famous Lipizzaners!


Here in Vienna, I’d already been to a performance of the Lipizzaners, been to see the babies and their moms when they grazed in the Burggarten last summer, and, most recently, taken the “behind the scenes” stable tour.  I was excited to see this last remaining part — the brood mares, the stallions, the young horses and the foals.

095The tour was mildly interesting for the kids, but otherwise not really noteworthy.  But getting to visit the horses was FANTASTIC.  Unlike in Vienna, where there are many rules and physical barriers designed to keep visitors at a distance from the horses, there’s nothing like that at Piber.  We were allowed to wander through the stables at our leisure, visiting, photographing, and even patting the horses.  Liam decided that every single horse we met was named “Willow”.  (I have no idea where he got that.)  It was absolutely worth the trip.  (Though the boys liked meeting the horses, their favorite parts of the day were the ice cream and the playground.)






After spending several hours at the stud farm, and seeing all there was to see, we waffled on whether to spend the extra time and money on the other available tour — a visit to the mountain pastures where the young stallions (ages 1-3) are turned out to frolic and roam for the summer.  It was a wet and chilly day, and the temperature was only about 6 degrees Celsius at the mountain pasture, which was also a half an hour drive from the main farm.  But, I figured, if not now, when?  So, we bought our tickets and trekked up to the meeting spot on the mountain.

We ran into a bit of trouble, though.  First, the signs were a bit confusing and just enough different from what we were told to expect that we nearly missed the spot entirely.  Second, there was no good place to park, which was a little confusing.  The directions lead to a gravel driveway on a tiny mountain road, far from anything, and the driveway has a chain and barbed wire across it.  We left the car on a narrow gravel strip along the road.  (t was only big enough for one car, so I have to wonder what they do when more than one family signs up for the tour!)  We weren’t really sure we were in the right place … and of course there was no cell signal, so we couldn’t call and ask.  It was our best bet, though, so we waited at the “meeting point”, as it was called in our printed directions.


I’m waiting by the sign

We arrived about 10 minutes before the tour was supposed to start.  Our directions had brought us to this spot, and they had also mentioned that after arriving at the meeting point, we were still a 10 minute walk from the mountain pastures.  So, we waited.  And we waited.  And waited.  In the cold and the wind, on the side of the mountain, with 2 tired kids.  I eventually sent Dan and the boys back to wait in the car.  After half an hour, we had to decide — give up, or assume that our directions were wrong and hike on up the driveway for 10 minutes to see if we could find anyone.

I was determined, and figured we were already invested.  We’d waited half an hour in the cold, and we’d paid for our tickets.  The main office was already closed for the day, and we were leaving town the next morning.  So, it was continue on, or give the money and time up for lost.  So, we walked past the uninviting barbed wired gate and started to climb up the driveway, uncertain as to whether we were even in the right place.

We walked for about 10-15 minutes, very much steeply uphill.  We found a summer camp, and then, a large barn.  We were met by a barking dog, and saw a few people from a distance, but nothing that looked too promising.  Not easily thwarted, we asked (in our sub-par German), and discovered that we were, unbelievably, actually in the right place.

229The main draw of the “mountain pastures” tour is to be able to watch the young horses running and playing in relative freedom in the huge mountain pastures.  By the time we arrived, they had all been brought in to a large barn for the night.  So, we pretty much missed the main reason to have gone, and instead, for our ticket price, we got to stand in the cold for half an hour, hike up a cold mountain and NOT see the horses in the mountain pastures.  BUT . . . we did get to visit with the horses for a bit.  The kids were allowed to climb up on the gate and pat the horses that happily came over for some love and attention.  It wasn’t at all the moment I expected it to be, but seeing the boys pat and talk with these beautiful horses, some of whom will be performing around the world in a few years, was pretty special.  (B in particular was truly captivated.  The horses’ caretaker even commented that B had the “spirit” of horses in him.)


After a little while, we trekked back down the mountain and managed a much needed and very hectic 6 minute grocery shopping trip (we got there just before closing) — extra impressive in an unfamiliar store.  What a day!

It was great to visit with the horses at Piber.  It was pretty cool to get to spend some time with them up on the mountain, too, though not exactly what we signed up for.  But we’ll certainly never forget it.

For anyone who reads this who is thinking about going — I would recommend the whole thing — the stable tour and the mountain tour.  Just know that the English directions are wrong.  The place that you’re told to “meet” is not a meeting point, just the end of the driveway you’re meant to walk up.  Don’t wait — no one is coming.  Just walk on up and see the horses.  Take the driveway all the way to the end — past where it looks like you’re supposed to — and you’ll get there.


The directions we were given . . .

Lipizzaner tour — Vienna


There are only a handful of things left on my wish list of Vienna experiences for which I would kick myself if I didn’t do them while living in Vienna.  But, until last weekend, one of the biggest ones was still on that list.  Before I moved to Vienna, I saw a performance of the world famous Lippizaner stallions once when they toured in the US, and I saw a performance at the Spanish Riding School here in Vienna when I came to visit in 2010.  I’ve walked past to see them being cared for in their stables and visited the mothers and foals during their summer turnouts at the Burggarten.  But, as a lifelong horse lover and equestrian, I really wouldn’t have wanted to miss the “behind the scenes” stable tour.

20140618-155134-57094330.jpgMy friend, Elaine, was kind enough to join me — these things are always more fun with a friend, and though the kids are technically old enough for the tour (no children under 3), I didn’t think they’d enjoy it, so we left Dan with the kids and had a grown up afternoon (which is an exciting enough prospect for me, with or without major equine celebrities).

We started with a stop for soup, cake and coffee at the iconic Cafe Central, which was truly lovely.  (Seriously, the Viennese know how to make a piece of cake.)

But after that, we were on to the tour!  (In English — there is also a German-language tour.)  There was some kind of construction going on, so apparently our tour didn’t follow the typical route, but that was ok with me, because we got to start with the very best part — the horses themselves.  We weren’t 20140618-155135-57095275.jpgallowed to take pictures in the stables, which was a shame, because the horses are all so beautiful.  We couldn’t pet them, either (for safety reasons) but we were right in the aisle of the barn, peering into the stalls.  Our tour guide gave us lots of information — I was the obnoxious person who knew all the answers to the questions that the tour guide asked.  But although I knew the significance of having a bay horse in the barn (for good luck) and why each horse has two names (each horse’s name follows the same convention — they’re named after their father and their mother), I did actually learn a lot, even while being distracted by visiting with the beautiful horses.  I learned that the horses work for 2 months and then get 2 months off . . . plus vacations.  I learned that each horse has only one rider and that each horse only knows one of the advanced moves for which the Spanish Riding School is famous.  I now know that although the 20140618-155135-57095623.jpgvast majority of the horses are “white” (actually light gray, and they’re all born dark — that part I already knew), they used to come in many different colors until one of the Austrian emperor decided he preferred the white and bred them for that trait.  Now only about 1% of Lippizaners stay bay as they grow.

After ogling the horses for a while, we moved on to the tack room, which was not quite as thrilling as hanging out with the horses, but equally fascinating.  We saw the racks of practice and performance saddles and bridles, and learned that you can predict whether a horse will do one of the “airs above the ground” in a performance based on the color of the saddle pad he wears.  We learned that the performance saddles are individually made for each horse in Switzerland out of buck leather, and that they’re very expensive.  And we saw an enormously fat cat.



We finished our tour with a stroll through the courtyard and past the world’s largest automatic horse walker on our way into the Winter Riding School with its fantastically elegant chandeliers.  There, we learned more about the process of becoming a rider for 20140618-155136-57096787.jpgthe Spanish Riding School — including that strong riding skills are not a prerequisite and that they accept only about one rider per year (fewer than .3% of the applicants) even into training — and the first two years of that consist mostly of cleaning tack and horse stalls.

It was great, and absolutely worth the €16 for the tour.  I did get the impression that our guide was a little out of sorts due to the change in routine caused by the construction, but I wasn’t able to get an answer when I asked what was different about the tour we got.  Regardless, I am so glad to have been able to go, and really grateful for Elaine’s company (and her patience with my constantly whispered commentary).  I had such a good time that I may just have to go back again to see the “regular” tour!


Vienna Masters 2013, parts 2 and 3

Almost 2 weeks ago, Elaine and I went to see part of the Vienna Masters horse show here in Vienna.  We had a great time, and I (of course) wanted to see more.  I had planned to go back the next morning during the free program, but that was the day the kids and I first got sick, so that didn’t work out.

I figured I’d be feeling better after a day of rest though (which turned out to only kind of be the case) so I bought a ticket for the evening performance, while Dan watched the kids.  (Which works out, because although the boys might sit through an hour of “watching the horsies”, the only way I was going to get to binge on watching show jumping was to go alone.)

023It was great.  Many of the top riders in the world were competing there.  I got to see amazing, inspiring, edge-of-my-seat performances.  I loved it.  It felt good to be back in the horse world, even as a spectator, after so long away.  (It was also raining.  And pretty cold.  Which I usually wouldn’t mind, but I don’t think sitting outside in the cold and damp for 5 hours probably did much to shorten the duration of my cold.)

I learned a few things while I was there, watching from the front row.  First, horse people don’t keep quiet here when they’re watching a horse competition, any more than they do at home.  We cluck, gasp, correct, encourage and groan at the horses and riders at the same moments.  And, we do so with the same *exact* noises here as at home.  I thought that maybe since Austrians are quieter in general, I might have to hold my tongue or be embarrassed by my involuntary outbursts.  But no, I fit in just fine!

029It was a lovely night.  In addition to the major show jumping competitions, I got to see some show pieces, too, including a drill team with 6 horses but only 2 riders, a vaulting demonstration that included a guy who strongly reminded me of a grown-up Benjamin, and four young guys who jumped 1.8 m fences … on their own two feet.  All of it impressive.

I had such a great time that even though we were all still under the weather, we took the kids over to watch part of the show on Saturday morning.  They were pretty interested in the jumping, but they faded after about an hour, and we headed home, but not before Benjamin asked me if maybe he could do a horse show after we move home.  (Not going to lie — that would be pretty fun.)


After a great time last year, I managed to go to the Vienna Masters a total of 3 times this year — not bad, given the weather and our collective illnesses.  I’m so glad we were able to take advantage of the opportunity to see such amazing performances, especially because it was basically in our own backyard.

Vienna Masters 2013, part 1

20130919-151341.jpgIt’s back again! The Vienna Masters horse show, with world-class jumping and dressage competitions, is here in Vienna. And, like last year, it’s right at Vienna’s Rathaus, and this only a few blocks’ quick walk for me.

For the first few days, they have a few events each morning with free admission. Today was the first day, and I brought along my friend Elaine (also an American living here in Vienna). It’s a fantastic event — beautiful horses, entries from around the world, and the thrill of competition, all in a stunning venue.

We had a great morning. The day started with a little rain, but by the time we arrived, it had turned sunny and cool. We watched two show jumping classes and did a little window shopping. The horses and riders put on a great show, and we even got to celebrate the victory of an American rider. We got to hear the Star Spangled Banner played here in Vienna, which was a little weird, but pretty great.

20130919-151420.jpgI wonder, though, watching dozens of riders, some of whom have travelled across thousands of miles WITH their horses — how do they do it? The big-name riders who compete in the evenings do this professionally, so that I understand, but what about the riders we saw today? Are they professionals? Do they take time off from work to fly their horses around the world to participate in events like this one? And what about the pony events? Are there parents who fly their children’s ponies to Europe for the weekend? Does that really happen?!? (I really don’t know. Although I used to compete, quite enthusiastically, in my younger days, competition at this level is foreign to me.)

It was a beautiful day, spent with great company, watching beautiful horses. I’m going back tomorrow to see one of the evening events, and I think we’ll take the boys over on Saturday for the free admission program (which includes the pony jumpers). I’m so happy to have this event so close by and to have some free time to be able to enjoy it. But all of it reminds me of how much I truly miss riding (and my horses at home).

Global Champions Tour in Vienna

Upon returning to Vienna after our vacation, we saw signs all around about “horses in the city”.  Horses in Vienna are nothing new, given the large number of fiakers (horse drawn carriages) and the Spanish Riding School, home to the famous Lipizzaner stallions.  Turns out, the world class Global Champions Tour of show jumping was coming to Vienna — in particular, to the plaza just in front of the city hall, which is just a few minutes’ walk from our front door.

Each morning of the competition, there are a few lower level competitions, as well as some practice times, that are open to the public.  Liam and I stopped by this morning, but he wasn’t interested in doing anything other than running around, so our visit was short-lived.  I really didn’t want to miss a chance to see some of the top show jumping riders in the world ride, though, so I bought a ticket for myself and Benjamin to go watch the big competition this evening.  At the last minute, B decided he really wasn’t all that interested, so I went by myself.

I really had a fantastic time.  Not only did I get a little time out of the house alone, but I got to watch some elite riders compete.  I saw three Gold medal Olympians ride tonight.  It was fantastic to get to watch some amazing athletes (human and equine) do their thing.  (The jumps were high, challenging and stunning to watch, but it’s the way the top riders and horses execute their turns that really impressed me.)  I also took a bunch of very blurry pictures.

We’re going to go back on Saturday to watch all together.  I explained to B that it’s like a race, with jumps, only they go one at a time.  Anything that’s a race is worthwhile to him, so I’m hoping they enjoy it, too.

Back in the saddle

Today, for the first time in over 16 months, I got on a horse. Even better, it was Cricket, one of my own horses, who I have had for over 10 years, since she was a baby.

I’ve been riding for more than 25 years, and this is the longest hiatus I’ve ever taken. I was expecting to go on a nice trail ride with several of my friends, but the weather didn’t cooperate (I did get to hunker down in a horse shelter while it was pelted by hail and blasted by winds that had Jill & I strategizing about whether the round bale would be a good place to hide in case we lost the roof off of the shelter). Instead, I took a quick ride with a friend after the weather settled down.

20120731-232902.jpgIt was fantastic. Catching Cricket, grooming her, getting her tacked up, swinging into the saddle and setting off for a ride was all so blissfully familiar. I hadn’t forgotten anything — every movement felt natural and right. Cricket responded wonderfully, even though she’s had a year of mostly novice riders on her. It was a great feeling to pick up our partnership right where we left off. I loved riding again, working with my horse, riding across the beautiful Maryland countryside, and knowing exactly how she was going to react to everything that happened and everything I asked her to do.

It was great to be back on a horse today. Being a rider is a big part of who I am, and I’ve really missed it. I think I may need to find a way to ride a bit in Vienna — I don’t want to have to wait until next spring to go for another ride.



I met Shadow in 1993. My dad had just moved on to a big farm property owned by a family who had a bunch of sheep and a horse, Shadow. I was a horse-crazy teenager, and after determining that she was safe to be around and that her people didn’t mind, I frequently visited Shadow in her field, giving her a pat or a carrot whenever I was around. At one point, Shadow was bred, and she took a hiatus from the farm and came back with a big, unruly colt that I tried (with her owner’s permission) to work with (unsuccessfully).

As the years went on, I left for college, moved home, got married, and eventually got a horse of my own, who I kept out at the farm as well. To help offset the cost of Cricket’s board, I helped around the farm and helped take care of Shadow. She was a sweet and gentle horse — good for the farrier, quiet to work around, easy to ride. (Not always good for the vet, though — she did not like to get her vaccinations!) I got a second horse (Ellie), and my responsibilities with Shadow increased after her owners moved overseas. I rode her around the farm a good bit, especially as Cricket grew up and Ellie recovered from a serious injury. Shadow was good, quiet and reliable as a mount, and I eventually taught my sister, Jo, and then my husband how to ride on her.

After a few years, the owners of the farm decided they wouldn’t be coming back, and they wanted a new home for Shadow. Since we had been caring for her, they offered her to us. I didn’t really need a second horse, let alone a third, but we wanted to be sure she’d be safe and well cared for. We wanted to give her a good home. So, we bought her — for $500, including her saddle (it was the best horse money I ever spent).

Shortly after that, we left that barn for another one, bringing all 3 horses with us. We made a wonderful home for our horses in this new place, with our friend, Jill, to look after them every day. Dan would ride Shadow on the trails and I would ride Cricket. In the summers, Shadow used her quiet, gentle manner to “work” at a summer camp where she taught lots of children to do everything from ride for the first time to conquer a complex cross country course of jumps.

The years went on, Benjamin was born, and I left my career to stay home with him. It was hard to find the time to dote on each of the horses, and we found a girl to lease and enjoy Shadow. I also started teaching riding lessons, and Shadow became the best, safest, most reliable teaching horse I ever knew. She always took care of her rider — she didn’t spook, or misbehave, or take advantage of anyone’s fear or lack of knowledge. She would also, though, make a rider always ask her to do something the “right” way before she complied — she didn’t ever let her riders slack off, and she wouldn’t respond if they weren’t clear about what they wanted. She made them work, but when they did, they were rewarded with an enthusiastic, careful partner for their chosen adventure. She continued to be a favorite at camp, and helped many kids learn to ride and jump and try new things. She was a star.

She taught so many people so many things over the years, and she was a kind, sweet and peaceful spirit. This morning, we had to say goodbye to Shadow. I am so sad that she is gone, and even more that I wasn’t there for her when she left us. I am glad that she got to say a last, whinnied goodbye to her friends Cricket and Ellie, and I am so grateful that our friend, Jill, who loved her and has cared for her all these years, was with her and took care of her this morning. I know that she knew that she was loved.

I feel so lucky to have had her in my life — this horse who came to me kind of by accident. She will be missed and always remembered. She was a friend, teacher and partner to those of us who knew her, and she will never be replaced.

One of Jill’s nephews once saw Shadow, in all of her fuzzy winter glory, out in the field, and he was overcome with excitement at getting to meet a “white stallion” (she was a palomino mare, but who’s counting?). Her existence on this planet brought so many people joy, in so many ways. I will miss her so very much.

Very Vienna

As we did yesterday, we decided to change our plans when we got up this morning.  Again, we had intended to visit Schonbrunn, but the forecast was for clouds (as it turns out, we’ve had sunshine almost all day) and we were worn out from our late tour around the city, so we decided to put Schonbrunn off until Saturday.  That left us, for the second day in a row, without any major or concrete plans.  And, for the second day in a row, our day didn’t suffer for the lack of itinerary at all.

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Lippizaner surprise

We were out, first thing this morning, to pick up some medicine for Liam’s (now infected) eye.  It’s rare that I’m up and out with the kids before 9:30/10:00-ish without Dan, but we had been to the apothecary and were done with our errand before 9:00 this morning.  We stopped by Benjamin’s favorite fountain, which is right outside the store, and then I asked him (because I had no other immediate plans) what he’d like to do next.

“Ice cream!”  Well, I wasn’t sure if you could get ice cream in Vienna at 9:00 a.m. on a Wednesday, but why not give it a try?  (It turns out you can’t, although, frustratingly, the shops are open, they just aren’t serving ice cream.)  Unsuccessful, but no less enthusiastic, we decided to stop for a coffee (for me) and a cookie (for Benjamin;  poor Liam got nothing).  It was lovely to be out for a leisurely walk, but the day was already getting hot, so I decided to wander towards home.

On the way, we walked within a block of the stables for the Lippizaner horses at the Spanish Riding School, so I asked Benjamin if he wanted to see the horses or go home, and he wanted to see the horses.  He loves to peer through the windows of the stable for a peek of a horse sticking his head out of the stall, or someone doing chores.  We were very lucky this morning — they must do most of the cleaning chores in the morning, because there was more activity around the stables than we had ever seen before.  Stalls were being mucked, hay was being moved around, the courtyard was being swept, there was a tractor, too!  We even saw a horse being taken out of his stall and taken into the interior of the barn.


We stayed for a little while, and then things started to settle down, so we prepared to leave.  I’m so glad we didn’t.  Just a moment later, Benjamin gasped and pointed, and I turned and looked — the horses were being brought out of their stalls and across the courtyard.  They continued through the door to the stable, though the little alcove where we were standing, across the street (where traffic had been halted) and into their performance hall.  They passed within a few feet of where we were standing, in a parade.  They were all groomed and tacked and ready to perform (or practice, I don’t actually know which).  They disappeared into the hall across the street and traffic began again.


This definitely has to go on my list of favorite moments so far in Vienna.  I’ve seen the Lippizaners perform (once in the US and once here in Vienna when I came last year to visit Dan) but it was wonderful to have them so close, and more so for it to be such a surprise.  They were only there a moment, but there were only a few people standing in the entry to the stable as they came through — it was a very special experience.  I don’t know how many days a week this might happen, but I will do my best, in the future, to find myself outside of the door of the stable around 10:00 on Wednesday mornings, at least.