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No horsing around for Vienna's elegant Lipizzan show horses

VIENNA--Elegant and disciplined at all times, they trot, pirouette and capriole with what seems like the greatest of ease, steered by impeccable riders in tailcoat and hat.

But it takes years of training to achieve the level of perfection exhibited at Vienna's elite Spanish Riding School — for both horse and human alike.

The white Lipizzan horses have delighted tourists visiting Austria's capital for decades and have become a trademark of the city.

But there's no getting in the school without the right lineage — for a horse that is. As for budding riders, they had better be prepared to get up at 6:00 a.m. six days a week, in their first years, to clean the stables.

No horseback tricks for them either: most of their first year will be spent just learning to sit properly in the saddle.

“It's hard and you know when you start that if you don't later succeed in training a young horse, you'll have to leave. And it's the dream of everyone who starts here to make it and one day become a rider,” Marcus Nowotny, 30, told AFP.

He is one of the few who made it through the tough selection and training process, which takes about 10 years, before joining the elite cast of 16 riders at the school. A job he now has for life.

For the horses, all descendants from long lines of Spanish steeds bred by the Habsburg court since the 16th century, training begins at age four and takes about six years until they are able to perform difficult jumps and perfect formations.

However, life is also good for these fine equines — worth an estimated 400,000 euros (US$540,000) each.

“We have three solariums, with infrared and ultraviolet rays ... we also have magnetic therapy,” said stable master Johannes Hamminger, who oversees the more than 100 horses kept by the school.

“The stallions are like top athletes so it's really very important that we look after them as we would look after a top athlete.”

That includes a healthy nutrition plan — muesli, oats, flaxseed, carrots and hay twice a day — daily exercise, sometimes open to the public, and holidays at the school's country estate for these city animals.

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A white Lipizzaner of the Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule) receives a wellness treatment in the stables of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna on Nov. 14.

(AFP)

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