Tag Archives: Horses

Sunday Fun: Harness Racing At Krieau

A couple of weeks ago, on Easter Sunday, we headed off to the races. In a part of the Prater called Krieau (Kree-ow) one finds a harness racing track. No galloping, these horses trot along at extreme speeds pulling a little cart, called a sulky. Instead of a jockey, they have a driver.

Krieau harness racing Vienna
I pick my horse the scientific way — by watching them warm up and deciding which one is the cutest. This cutie pie probably galloped.

As at a standard racetrack there is a grandstand, wagering, and plentiful beer. Unlike at a standard racetrack, a horse is eliminated if he or she gallops. (The horses I bet on pretty much invariably galloped.)

Krieau Trabrennbahn Vienna
I love the little Modernist viewing gallery and communications tower behind the finish line, paired with the video screen.

There is actually a non-operational galloping track a little farther down in the Prater — it’s absolutely beautiful, an elegant, spindly Jugendstil structure that’s now used only for the occasional event; we were most recently there for a bicycle festival. The track itself is having a second life as a golf course. Though there’s no more racing there, the structure is under Denkmalschutz (historic preservation), so for the moment they’ve not knocked it down.

Krieau Trabrennbahn Vienna
Grandstand at the Trabrennbahn, decorated with jockey’s colors, Habsburg arms, and old men.

The nearby Trabrennbahn, or trotting track, was finished in 1913 in a Vienna Modernist style. It’s the second-oldest harness track in Europe. One does worry for its future, though. It’s poorly populated and looks run down. An entire section of the grandstand is not in use, basically in a shambles. Theoretically the horses are going to get new stabling (they’re now in older facilities beyond the track). But it’s a little hard to believe they won’t eventually tear the whole thing down and replace it with some awful contemporary structure that more immediately advances the cause of international capital.

Krieau Trabrennbahn Vienna
Beyond the stands in use you can see the deteriorating portion of the grandstand.

The Krieau track sits cheek-by-jowl with the brand new, hideous, overweeningly self-important WU (Wirtschaftsuniversität, or Economics University), built on the edge of the Prater just in the last couple of years. It is seriously the ugliest thing ever, a mishmash of mishapen buildings by important architects, thrown up in haste. In this photo you can see the WU behind the track as well as the Messe Wien — the convention center that already put pressure on this area:

Krieau Trabrennbahn Wien
Pastoral, no? Horses in the shadow of the Economics Uni and convention center.

The area around the Prater is changing rapidly. New campus housing for the WU has already been built; more is being constructed. The old, pastoral, rambling days of the park are on borrowed time — and land. So are the trotters, and the timeless atmosphere that surrounds them. The race meet ends on June 1st. Still opportunity for a pleasant Sunday afternoon at the track.

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Backstage with the Lipizzaners, Magic Dancing Dream Horses

My new friend.
My new friend.

Last week my dear friend and riding trainer, T, came to visit. As it happens, through the miracle of Facebook, she is friends with the Chief Rider (Oberbereiter) of the Spanish Riding School, home of the Lipizzaner horses. For those not horse-crazy since youth: The Spanish Riding School was created in the late 16th century as the equestrian arm of the Habsburg court; they train in spectacular late-Baroque facilities built in the mid-18th century (this is the famous Winter Riding School, in the Hofburg in Vienna). The Lipizzaners are a specific breed, much like Thoroughbred or Dutch Warmblood or what have you—but the original stock were Spanish, hence the naming of the School.

The Stallburg from inside the courtyard, ringed with stalls.

(Sorry. Spend long enough in German-speaking territories and you start being like Winnie-The-Pooh, capitalizing all your nouns.)

They are the friendliest, most relaxed stallions you will ever see.
They are the friendliest, most relaxed stallions you will ever see.

All the horses used in the School’s famous performances are white (well, technically grey in horse terms, but they look white to the lay person), though they’re born dark and lighten over time, as do most grey horses. They are famous because they do spectacular airs above the ground—highly-trained rears, leaps, hops and other balletic movements that are not part of a standard dressage horse’s repertoire, though they do all of the rest of the dressage movements as well (lateral work, piaffe, passage, tempi changes, etc.).

Like, seriously. They just want to say hi.

At any rate… T arranged for us to see the school courtesy of one of the Riders (Bereiteranwärter), a fantastically generous and friendly gentleman named Christopher (now my FB friend!), who showed us the stables and the tack room, as well as hosting us for morning exercise, where we got to sit at ground level at the end of the arena (the rest of the viewing is done from the gallery above).

Bit on a Lipizzaner bridle.

Here are some photos of backstage at the Spanish Riding School, among the top 5 coolest things I’ve ever seen (do you ever wish you could go back to your childhood self and say…you won’t believe the totally random and unexpected ways that your dreams will suddenly, out of nowhere, literally come true?).

Thank you, Christopher, for the incredible tour!  Thanks, horses, for being the most extraordinary creatures on the planet!


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