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Could it be true? The experts are always in the stands!

I had the pleasure this spring of going to Vienna Austria to do some teaching and horsing around. I also travelled around a bit to see the country. One of the stops I very much wanted to make was the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. The school has been in existence for 430 years. It is, of course, steeped in tradition. The Lipizzan stallions are bred and used for the school in Austria. Individuals, if I remember correctly, are able to apply to the school between ages of 18 and 23 to become riders. It is expected that if chosen you would make your life career to stay a rider until retirement. Up until recently it was men only but now it is open to females, currently it has two female riders and more women applications than men.

The Lipizzans have a breeding facility in one part of the country, the school in Vienna in the city and summer pastures for the horses in the Alps. I went to each location and tried to take in as much of the culture and traditions as possible. All the stallions they use must meet certain standards of trainability and conformation. The riders must be of certain size and shape as well. The one stallion that I visited was retired and will be 40 years old this year.

Many of the buildings in the area are over 1000 years old. Canada isn’t that old! The stallions that do not meet the standards are trained and sold. The areas where the horses live are beautiful. All the mares and foals are handled often and at a young age. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten how many years the riders train before being allowed to be in the show but it was many years with a very set training system and program. The riders go through rigorous training, grooming and cleaning their own horses and the stalls. They have saddles that have been used for years and fitted to each individual horse. When the horses are brought home from the mountains in the fall they are led from the summer pastures through the countryside and towns back to their winter home. All the towns along the way have festivals and parties in celebration of the Lipizzans coming home.

Individuals from all over the world travel specifically to Vienna, many just to tour the Spanish Riding School and see the horses. I had wanted for many years to enjoy whatever there was to see and learn at the school as well. I purchased the best tickets available so I was right at ground level with the horses and riders. The riders came in to the arena and gave an amazing show that I’m sure they did for thousands of people every year to the same music. I watched each rider and horse intently, trying to learn whatever I could as well as enjoy all their dedication to the craft. There were so many things to appreciate - the exact spacing of the horses, carrying collection for 20 minutes, the straightness of their lines, the timing required.  Just seeing all the stallions was amazing.

Unfortunately, it was difficult to really concentrate and enjoy all of the beauty as there was so much talk around me about the horses and riders, “that guy doesn’t smile so he must hate his job”,  “I saw that horse move his tail”,   “that horse doesn’t look happy”,  “ that rider needs to lose some weight”,  “that horse missed the lead”. On and on went the comments. I just thought how sad people feel the need to go to some function and try to find what they assume is a flaw in the riders or horses.   I never heard one positive comment, which is so unfortunate. It’s been my experience that the people who “can do” what is happening in the ring know how much work goes into what they’ve accomplished and don’t have negative things to say or such judgment. I think we can do better, look for the positive, even if we do attend some not so great show. Or, maybe all the experts are in the stands.   I don’t think so.  This is not one isolated incident I’ve heard the same type of comments at shows, competitions, clinics and so on, in Canada and other places, we really can do better.

Negative Nancy’s are not fun to be around. Blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make ours glow any better.

Enjoy the show,

Glenn Stewart