Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July 8th – The White Horses of Lipica

We stood there full of anticipation by the side of the road to the stables. 100 metres up ahead of us a gate was opened, and suddenly, 50 beautiful white Lipizzaner horses came thundering past us at full gallop through the dappled sunlight, like a tide of equine power breaking over us, their manes flapping in the wind behind them and the ground shaking under the weight of their feet as they sprinted past. It was utterly exhilarating being so close to these phenomenal creatures, powerful and graceful at the same time.

This was the perfect end to one of my most enjoyable days in 10 years of campervanning, as we visited the legendary stables of Lipica (pronounced "Lipizza"), to see the original home of the amazing white horses that are used in the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Lipica was home to the imperial stables since the 16th century, but after the break up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, most of the stables' horses were taken off to Austria. However, since the Second World War the stables here have been thoroughly revamped and today demonstrated that the Slovenian branch of the Lippizaner family is in excellent health.

First we went to a perfectly choreographed show of horsemanship just like the Spanish Riding School, with the horses putting on a graceful show of skipping, prancing, pirouetting and high kicking to waltzes and classical tunes (some to a disco beat). The rider and the horse were in perfect unison, making these incredibly complicated manoeuvres look utterly effortless – it was wonderful to watch (sadly you're not allowed to take photos inside as it spooks the horses, so the pictures of the show are from their website).

Then we were taken to the stables to meet some of the horses that are in training – they take years of training, normally reaching performance standard between 10 and 20 years old, before going into a blissful retirement (they live to about 30). Normally I'm a bit wary of horses close up, because I find them a bit unpredictably skittish, but the ones we met were so incredibly calm and serene. It was like meeting horse royalty – I couldn't stop stroking them.

But, the best was saved till last, as we watched that joyful gallop of the mares and the foals (who, surprisingly enough, start off brown and turn white as they reach adulthood). As they galloped past, it felt like we were on the set for the Guinness add, or for a fantasy film.

Slovenia has been a joy from start to finish, but today was surely the best day of the lot.