excerpts from

MY HORSES, MY TEACHERS

by Alois Podhajsky

Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. 1968
Published originally under the title MEINE LEHREMEISTER DIE PFERDE
by Nymphenburger Verlagshandlung GmbH., Munchen, Germany. 1967

Walt Disney made the film The Miracle of the White Stallions in Vienna, the Lipizzaners excelled once more as movie stars.

They had been filmed repeatedly and were not disturbed by the huge cameras, the blinding spotlights, and the whole busy bustle of a team of film people. American producers, in particular, indulge in the habit of rehearsing each scene at least ten times and then afterwards take about the same number of shots of film. This method procures an incredible amount of film materials, which will be cut down to the final version.

The stoical behavior of the stallions turned out to be of a negative effect on several occasions. In one scene they were shown during an air raid as they were taken from the stables into the riding hall while the mortar crumbled from the walls and ceiling. Dust was blown into the air and firecrackers exploded to make the scene as realistic as possible, and the stallions reacted accordingly by neighing, rearing, and trembling. But after the scene had been shot for the third time they understood that there was nothing terrible about all this noise and bustle.

They shook the dust out of their ears and obviously took the whole thing for a new sort of game. It was the extras (those persons who constitute the crowds in films and are not real actors but mostly students) who acted most realistically of all. They had to run across the dimly lit courtyard leading the Lipizzaners while firecrackers exploded on all sides -- and they were scared to death of the powerful stallions.

During the real air raids the Lipizzaner stallions behaved with great courage. When Vienna was bombed it was usually during the morning hours, and all the riders were at work in the School. They ran across the street to the stables opposite the School at the first sound of the siren and lent a hand to the grooms to bring the stallions into the air raid shelter that was provided for them.

Thus at the moment of noise and excitement brought about by an alarm, the stallions were surrounded by people who were familiar to them and took care of them. We have heard about the role that confidence plays in the relationship of horse and man. Willingly the stallions followed these men into the horse corridor situated alongside the riding arena. With walls that were almost two metres thick, it offered the greatest security.

At the first howling of the sirens they would stand at the doors of their boxes and wait until somebody put their halters on. When the bombs fell all around the imperial palace and the Riding School, they remained absolutely sedate although they trembled with fear. When the earth rocked, they crouched low and slowly lifted their heads when the worst seemed to to be over. There was never a panic caused by a stallion when the bombs fell on Vienna. . . .

PLUTO THEODOROSTA was another Lipizzaner stallion who was to be my companion for nineteen years. Although nature had given him great physical beauty, his brilliant career was not to be foreseen in the beginning. When the young four-year old stallions first come from the stud farm to the Splanish Riding School, they are longed for several weeks and then assigned to the various riders to be initiated gradually in the training. PLUTO THEODOROSTA happened to be allotted to a rather passive rider, which seemed to condemn him to remain forever a remount.

After five years of training his abilities had not been furthered beyond the demands made upon the horses in the first year, which are demonstrated in the performance by the "young stallions" This is the traditional beginning of the display and is limited to the three basic paces: walk, trot, and canter. . . .

In 1942 riding master Polak had a heart attack and sank from the horse during a performance. . . I decided to work PLUTO THEODOROSTA myself as much as I was able to at that time. I worked him in hand, that is, I led him along the wall with a leading rein and with side reins attached to his saddle and to the rings of his snaffle. I demanded a few short trot-like steps, which should make him more supple.

Once, though, he responded to the pushing aids of my whip with an elevation of the forehand and a leap forward, which suggested a certain talent for school jumps or airs above the ground. I took advantage of his talent and in the work in hand trained him for caprioles (a movement in which the horse leaps into the air and kicks out energetically with both hind legs). . . .

. . . On the whole, PLUTO THEODOROSTA's training progressed only slowly and establishing a sound foundation took a very long time. Once again I found confirmation of the fact that it is incomparably easier to begin the training of a young horse in the correct way than to retrain a spoiled one.

However, Pluto Theodorosta gained more suppleness and flexibility both physically and mentally through consistent yet varied work. In May 1945, I presented him for the first time leading the quadrille during the historic performance for General Patton.

Only four years later he accompanied Teja and his Lipizzaner friend NEAPOLITANO AFRICA to London and participated in the display at the International Horse Show in White City. He had become one of the star stallions of the Spanish Riding School.

. . . PLUTO THEODOROSTA had a sparkling temperament, which enhanced his lively and impulsive paces and gave a special brilliance to his whole appearance. His obedience was exemplary and he had unlimited confidence in his rider, which prevented him from shying or giving trouble by sheer gayety. . . .

PLUTO THEODOROSTA's first appearance in the role of a dressage horse in 1950 was a complete success. In Frankfurt on Main we were placed second to Germanay's idol Otto Loerke in a medium class and won first place in the difficult test in the same show.

Soon afterwards we were victorious in an Olympic dressage test in Hamburg. It was the first time that a Lipizzaner had won a Grand Prix. I had little opportunity to take PLUTO THEODOROSTA to horse shows but whenever he appeared he won.

He reached the climax of this part of his career at the great horse show in Stockholm in 1952. In the free style test we left behind us seven of the best participants, who had come from the Olympic Games in Helsinki. Among them was the winner of the gold medal in the Olympic dressage test, the Swedish Major St. Cyr, and what is more, this occurred in his own country.

In a free-style test the rider may choose his own programme according to the abilities of his horse. He is given a prescribed time limit and a number of exercises that have to be built into his performance, but the order of the figures and the airs are left to the imagination of the rider. Besides the correctness of the exercises and the horse's paces, his obedience and impulsion, the judges give a mark for the artistic value of the programme.

In that particular test PLUTO THEODOROSTA for the first time performed three priouettes one after the other with such perfection that, together with the rest of his flawless performance, there was no doubt about his victory. Having copmleted the last pirouette, he continued in complete balance on the same straight line he had been going on before the pirouette.

To me he gave the wonderful feeling that I could have asked for many more pirouettes, that all I had to do was to think and he would execute my thoughts. He gave me the incomparable sensation of complete harmony.

. . . in Stockholm . . . At a collected canter I rode into the completely dark stadium and reached the place of our performance surrounded by a circle of four spotlights which had followed me. All alone in the dazzling light I waited for what was to come. Suddenly I heard the deafening noise of a helicopter circling above me and saw its brightly lit cockpit.

PLUTO THEODOROSTA, too, discovered the deafening and blinding object, which sank slowly to the ground. Terrified, he prepared to take a hasty retreat, which would certainly have been the most natural thing for him to do. I was aghast at the idea of having him race around in a panic in the vast space of the arena, accompanied by the roaring laughter of some twenty-two thousand spectators.

I was about to face the greatest disgrace of my life, the sublime and the ridiculous being so close together.

In a desperate attempt to save my reputation, I applied the reins and took a firm contact with the mouth of the excited stallion. I pressed my legs with all my strength to his body to make him feel that I was with him and to remind him of the obedience I had built up in years of training. I was not at all sure of the effect of my aids. Would I be able to hold the powerful stallion? It was a terrible moment.

But PLUTO THEODOROSTA remained motionless on the spot. His obedience was stronger than his panic! He continued to stand motionless when the brightly lit monster approached more and more noisily and the wind of its blades whistled around our ears. This hot-tempered Lipizzaner stood like a monument, and only my legs pressed to his flanks felt him tremble.

The helicopter touched the ground at a distance of about twenty yards and two small children in Swedish national costume left the cockpit. PLUTO THEODOROSTA again obeyed when I ordered him to approach, in a passage, the two children who waited for me in front of the helicopter. The little girl handed me a huge bouquet of flowers and the boy presented one of those well-known Swedish horses which are said to bring good luck. It was of solid wood and the size of a full-grown poodle.

Hardly had I recovered from astonishment at the weight of this present when I realised that everybody had withdrawn into the darkness and that I was alone again in the arena, my hands full with reins, whip, two-cornered hat, flowers, and Swedish horse. How would I manage a decent exit with all these burdens?

In a collected canter I set PLUTO THEODOROSTA in the direction of the gate, followed by the circle of the spotlights, and carried by the enthusiastic applause surging from the darkness surrounding me. My burdens, especially the "horse of luck," seemed to become heavier all the time and PLUTO THEODOROSTA became faster and faster. We reached the saddling area at last by the sweat of our brow but without accident, and there my faithful Flasar delivered me of my various loads and cavalry officers and experts crowded in on me congratulating me on PLUTO THEODOROSTA's obedience. They proclaimed him the "perfect dressage horse"! . . . .

A year later, in 1950, NEAPOLITANO SANTUZZA appeared in public for the first time in the programme "work in hand" in the performance at the Autumn Fair in Wels. The Spanish Riding School had lived in exile in this small town in Upper Austria in the years from 1949 to 1955, for it was not advisable to return to Vienna as long as the Russian troops occupied the City.

NEAPOLITANO SANTUZZA's debut was a great success and the beginning of a brilliant career. From 1951 on there was no performance in which he did not take part. He received the name "the flying horse" and pictures of his capriole in hand circulated throughout the world.

Our relationship became closer all the time; he never let me down and it seemed in all those years as if nature had endowed him with everlasting youth. He never declined in his abilitites and his performance remained unaltered in beauty and exactness.

To me he was attached with an almost pathetic loyalty. When in 1960 Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran visted the stables after a gala performance given in his honor, NEAPOLITANO SANTUZZA neighed in his friendly way when we approached his box. "This salute is not meant for me, it is for you, isn't it?" our esteemed guest presumed.

When in 1964 the Spanish Riding School undertook its second tour to the United States and Canada, the Lipizzaner stallions were to be transported in airplanes for the first time in the history of their ancient breed. For the first time in his career, too, the "flying horse" was left at home, for in spite of his everlasting youth I was afraid of the strain that the tour and the adventure of the flight would mean for NEAPOLITANO SANTUZZA, who in the meantime had reached the age of twenty-eight.

In the last performance in Vienna before our departure in March he aroused the enthusiasm of the public by his brilliant and unequalled caprioles, but when I returned from America in June, to my dismay I found an old man.

Abruptly taken out of his regular training he had aged years within those two and a half months and was incapable of performing any more. . . . Sad and depressed, I entered the stables of the clinic and saw my dear and loyal companion of over fourteen years as he stood in a corner of his box, thin and indifferent to his surroundings, his coat dull. . . But when I called him softly he lifted his head, turned slowly around and came towards me, lifting his right foreleg as was his habit when he begged for sugar, although I had never taught him to do so. He took the sweets I presented ot him on the palm of my hand, accepted my tender caresses, and turned slowly back to the wall as if he wanted to avoid prolonging the grief of saying goodbye.

NEAPOLITANO SANTUZZA left the place of our mutual work two weeks before I had to retire from the Spanish Riding School, to which we were both attached with every fibre of our being. . . . .

FROM ALL THESE EPISODES AND EXPERIENCES within a space of time longer than a half a century I learned to understand and appreciate the horse.

I have come to value his qualities and to tolerate or to pass with indulgence over his weaknesses, which are so insignificant compared with his honesty and affection, his good will, loyalty, and undeniable share of intelligence.

My horses not only taught me riding but they also made me understand many a wisdom of life besides.

With all these horses who were also my teachers, fate has lavished upon me an inestimable treasure of loyalty and friendship and as in the poem I loved when I was a boy, I will be able to say on leaving this world: ". . . that I will have the honour of a devoted charger waiting for me when I come to join the eternal army . . . "

See historic photos of the Lipizzan stallions mentioned here

 


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