Last year was quite rich in terms of staying in hotels which provide riding lessons. It started with the Concorde El Salam Hotel in Cairo, where I had international ride #20, and continued in the Meydan hotel in Dubai, Chateau de Faucon in France and here, in Austria. The amazing Posthotel in Achenkirch is truly a 5-star hotel. Just check Trip Advisor! You could hardly find a place with a better rating.
The story of Posthotel in Achenkirch goes back to the 15th century, when it was just a modest post station. Contemporary history of the hotel started in 1918, when the coaching inn and restaurant came into the possession of the Reiter family, grandparents of the current owner, Karl Reiter.
3 generations later, in addition to the hotel extending, Karl Reiter decided to breed Lipizzaner horses and brought the first stud stallion from Vienna’s Spanish Riding School.
The Reiter family was always very successful in turning dreams into reality, so now they are the proud owners of not only the finest resort and Spa but also the biggest private Lipizzaner stud farm in Europe with about 40 pure-bred horses.
Hotel guests can book either a lesson in an indoor or outdoor arena or a trail ride.
Regrettably, I couldn’t entirely trust the Tirolean weather at that time of the year, so I had to choose an indoor riding lesson.
At 10 AM sharp I was in the stable meeting Tanja – my instructor for the day – and Ivanka – my international ride number 24. Tanja, a tall blonde benevolent girl, has worked in Posthotel’s riding school for about 10 years, not only teaching riding but also driving carriages. So of course I couldn’t miss the chance and asked her half a million questions while I was taking short walking breaks during the lesson.
As you probably already know, all Lipizzaners can trace their pedigree to 6 classical foundation stallions: Pluto (a Spanish stallion foaled in 1765), Conversano (Neapolitan, 1767), Maestoso (half Kladruber, half Spanish, 1773), Favory (Kladruber, 1779), Neapolitano (Neapolitan, 1790) and Siglavy (Arabian, 1810).
So all Lipizzaner horses have a “surname”, the dynasty name, after their personal name.
According to her name on the stable door, Ivanka was a great-great (and few more times “great”) granddaughter of Pluto. Although, I would imagine that in the course of the last 250 years, these six blood lines have crossed so many times that she is as much a Pluto descendant as the other ones. :-)
Slowly but surely I was earning Ivanka’s attention and respect, so closer to the end of the lesson we managed to make a few pretty good flying changes and traverses.
The most amazing thing about Ivanka was that her mane and hair were so soft and niveous that I decided to extort the great secret of her snow-white coat from Tanja.
Owners of grey horses will understand me: it takes tremendous effort to keep that white hair from turning yellowish under the influence of sweat, dust or fresh grass. But the answer surprised me. “We just use plain water,“ replied Tanja. Well, that must be very special water there in Achenkirch.
Knowing that Tanja knows a lot of the hotel’s horses from their first days, I asked if it was possible to tell, looking at the foal, what kind of a horse he will turn into. She told me that until 6 months old it’s difficult to say something about the character; and as for the colour… The result of this genetic lottery is only known by the age of 5-6 years. I mean of course, 99% is that the horse will turn as white as Ivanka, but there is always the chance that an older horse will stay black or bay.
Lipizzaners mature quite late. A thoroughbred’s career will be long over by the age that Lipizzaners are saddled for the first time. But on the bright side, it’s not rare for Lipizzaners to live for over 30 years.
After the lesson I had a few more hours to departure, so I walked around and found out that the hotel has an enviable collection of books about horses, which I would’ve enjoyed much better had my German been less limited.
One of the impressive volumes was devoted to the artworks of Johann Georg von Hamilton, who was a court painter in Vienna in the late 17th century. In one of my previous posts I mentioned the portrait of Emperor Charles IV which you can see in the Winter Manege in Vienna. It was created by 2 artists: Johann Gottfried Auerbach portrayed the Emperor, and Georg von Hamilton created one of his most realistic horse portraits ever. And “realistic” is a key word here.
Von Hamilton deeply loved horses and painted them relentlessly. The natural beauty of horses was not enough for him so he avidly decorated reality. These are examples of his works: roman-nosed creatures with tiny heads, enormous butts and fragile looking legs and, of course, big manga :-) eyes without eyelids and eye lashes.
I mean, I could understand that eagerness to conform to the 17th century’s canons of horse beauty – delicate heads on swan necks and large expressive eyes – but if striving for “perfection” we continue “improving” proportions, then these fantastic creatures will look more like the Loch Ness Monster than a real horse.
Sitting in the old cozy leather armchair in the library corner, I heard the clatter of four pairs of hooves and saw the open carriage drawn by a pair of white horses. It had five passenger places, but only two passengers, so I decided to try my luck. Maybe they find a place for me without pre-booking. Using more gestures than actual words I explained that I was staying in the hotel and would love to have a ride with them. Then I jumped into the front seat and we started our journey to the beautiful Achen Lake.
As we passed a local school and the hotel’s manicured jumping arena, I thought that this place had come straight from my childhood dreams. The jumping arena was located just 50 meters away from the school and was surrounded by a desktop-picture-quality landscape. What could be better? But my second thought was that I most likely would have stayed illiterate if I’d had a chance to study in this school. Seriously, what kind of horse-mad kid would pay attention to calculus or Ancient Rome history with such a view?
But the pair was driving us closer and closer to the hills, looking like they were made of velvet, and I closed my eyes dreamingly. Chilly fresh Alpine winds, and the sounds… Oh those sounds from my childhood that made me drop everything I was doing in the middle of it and rush to the nearest window to see horses that produce spellbinding music by simply walking or trotting on the pavement. Just clattering… No other magic or years of musical practice required. But in the Alps these tunes from my childhood sounded even better. The horses’ effortless toccata was accompanied by dozens of bells hanging on the necks of modest milking musicians grazing on the hills J Suddenly the rhythm accelerated, I opened my eyes and saw the long thin whip flying over the horses steaming backs and touching them slightly. Not unlike a conductor’s baton, I thought.
In about an hour and a half we were back at the hotel and I took a taxi to the nearest railway station.
And you know, I made a promise to come back in wintertime. First of all, because it’s about time to learn how to ski J, but also because I still keep dreaming about complementing my collection of worldwide equestrian pictures with photos like this.