When an afternoon spent at one of Vienna’s most beautiful city gardens incorporates little hoofbeats…..it must be July!
We walk past their stalls almost every day, and frequently stand in awe as they cross the street with their sharply dressed riders on their way to work in the ring of the prestigious Spanish Riding School. Traffic comes to a standstill, passerby reach for their cameras and sometimes the resident feline companion comes to the heavy arched doorway to see them off on their daily journey. Vienna’s famous Lipizzaner stallions represent Europe’s oldest cultural horse breed; for over 450 years they have been involved in a form of classical horsemanship that demonstrates how the horse’s natural movement serves as a basis for training and elegance.
Visitors to Vienna can attend various demonstrations of their skill and artistry, as well as tour their stables in the heart of the city. When July comes, however, the stallions vacation in the countryside for a few weeks and are replaced in Vienna by a small group of mares and foals who are brought from the Lipizzaner stud farm in Piber, Austria. These summer guests are the focus of a less structured presentation in the Riding School itself, but also become the center of attention at the nearby Burggarten, where can they enjoy evening exercise and pasture in a beautiful green space close to their accommodations. Their arrival in the garden, when the bells of the Augustiner church ring out at five o’clock, is greeted with excited curiosity. Of course, the foals themselves are both excited and curious, too!
We spoke with one of the stable hands, who shared with us that Piber has welcomed 48 foals this season, a small handful of which have been selected to travel into the capital. On July 5, their first journey into the park, we could see that the mares were especially protective of their offspring and alert to all surrounding noises, including construction machinery and local traffic. The arrival of such beautiful animals had the ability to render the rather large crowd nearly silent--apart from the clicking of camera shutters, that is! Standing in the diverse crowd smiling at the two month old foals stepping onto the Burggarten lawn for the first time, we were reminded of nature’s universal appeal. One or two foals were determined to keep mum in sight no matter what. Others were intrigued by a stray twig or leaf and took a more playful approach to the experience.
The foals have been exposed to the public since their first steps, since Piber stud farm hosts an array of family friendly presentations 365 days a year, designed both to entertain and to inform. School groups visit this facility, as well as corporate gatherings and of course tourists. In Vienna, the pace is a little different, with the daily procession of horses to and from the park merging into the daily routine of the city rather seamlessly. The foals walk untethered alongside the mares who are led on a lead line by staff. The effect is rather charming; the equine parade passes within inches of locals sipping their afternoon coffee al fresco, outside Vienna’s Burggarten’s butterfly house. Many people seem accustomed to this charming sight as epitomising yet another benefit of summer living.
We’re so looking forward to taking an evening stroll in this park as often as we can during July! It’s exciting to imagine that one day some of these adorable babies will perhaps grace the arena as fully trained stallions, maintaining Vienna’s fine equestrian tradition. For the moment, they are surely some of the city’s most photogenic creatures!