They are kings of the equine world and the Spanish Riding School of Vienna certainly conquered the hearts of audiences when they pranced their way into Sheffield this weekend. writes Emily Davies.
With their dazzling display of athleticism, grace and beauty, which was a sight to behold, it’s clear to see why these majestic Lipizzaner stallions and their accomplished riders ‘rein’ supreme.
The Spanish Riding School’s visit to the Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield, is made all the more special by the fact it’s the first time they have visited the north of England in their 430-year history. It’s certainly special for me as it’s been a dream of mine to see these magnificent horses in action since seeing them on TV as an 11-year-old horse-mad girl.
Almost three decades later that dream has come true for me - right on my doorstep in Sheffield - and as it turns out the wait was definitely worth while.
Tour director Charles Chaboche said: “It’s been brilliant and so exciting to see them coming into Sheffield. It’s nice to see that all the months of preparation have paid off.”
The setting at the Arena had certainly been prepared to accommodate these dressage superstars, with an exquisite soft surface for the performances, and rolls and rolls of red carpet! Yet even before the ‘mane’ attraction appeared, audiences were treated to special performances by two greats of the dressage world - Lee Pearson, CBE, and Carl Hester, MBE.
Among their accomplishments, Lee Pearson is a 10-times Paralympic gold medallist and Carl Hester is 2011 European Dressage Champion, and 2012 team gold medallist. Each wowed audiences with their skill and horsemanship, and Carl even talked through and demonstrated, with the help of assistant Rebecca Hughes and their two steeds, some of the moves the Lipizzaner stallions would be performing.
The show that was to follow was nothing short of mesmerising, and the stage oozed Viennese glamour during the performance of “Schools On and Above the Ground.” Watching the Lipizzaner stallions and their riders in action was breathtaking as they executed each move with complete precision and harmony, set to the music of classical greats such as Mozart and Strauss.
When host Nicki Chapman introduced the show and said: “I hope it will be a performance you’ll never forget” indeed, seeing these classical traditions presented with so much expertise was not only inspiring but something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Audience member, Charlotte White, 42, of Worksop commented: “The show was lovely, the horses are just a dream to watch.”
Whether you’re a horse lover or not though, there really is something for all the family to enjoy - just watching these majestic creatures is entertainment enough - but there’s also informative sections for the dressage divas in the audience, and plenty for history buffs with talks about the school’s origins, the breeding of the Lipizzaners and how many of the movements performed have historic military ties.
There are almost too many highlights of the show to mention, but particular favourites of mine include ‘Schools Above the Ground’ where the horses display a variety of moves leaving the ground either with the forelegs or forelegs and hindquarters together. What is even more impressive is that these movements are executed by the riders without stirrups. I can only imagine that the riders must have super glue on their breeches!
These horses are not just athletes, they’re gymnasts. Years of training has made them incredibly fit and agile, and this was no better presented than in ‘School Quadrille.’ In this final set a minimum of eight horses and riders show various movements of classical dressage. If horses could ever do ballet, then this is it, it was an incredible display of fitness, strength and harmony.
Clearly many years of training both these unique horses and riders pays off for the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, and they are a true inspiration for horsemen and women around the world.
This show is not just inspiring, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not to be missed. Horse enthusiast or not, The Spanish Riding School of Vienna is unique and carries with it a tradition that has spanned centuries. Enjoy them while you can in Sheffield. Who knows when they’ll be back, let’s hope they don’t leave it as long next time.
* The Spanish Riding School of Vienna Tour is at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena from Friday to Sunday, October 31 to November 2, 2014. For tickets, priced £22 to £66, including booking fee, call 0114 256 5656 or visit www.motorpointarenasheffield.co.uk.
UK 2014 Tour Dates
The Spanish Riding School of Vienna at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena
Friday 31st October 2014 - 7.30pm
Saturday 1st November 2014 - 7.30pm
Sunday 2nd November 2014 - 3.00pm
The Spanish Riding School of Vienna at London’s Wembley Arena
Friday 14th November 2014 - 7.30pm
Saturday 15th November 2014 - 7.30pm
Sunday 16th November 2014 - 3pm.