Spanish Riding School of Vienna
by Jayne Howarth
For anyone who loves the elegance of horses and who marvels at the harmony between man and beast, the Spanish Riding School is a sight to behold, writes Jayne Howarth.
The School, based in Vienna, has been practising its art for more than 400 years, and has played to rapt audiences across the globe.
This November, Birmingham is lucky enough to play host to this magnificent troupe of white Lipizzaner stallions and their expert riders.
And no one is more excited than television presenter Nicki Chapman, who will be the host once more at the three-night show at the National Indoor Arena with UK dressage champion Carl Hester and Paralympian Lee Pearson.
A fan of the School since she was a child and a keen horsewoman herself, Nicki is looking forward to seeing the performances.
“There is nothing else like them on Earth,” she says. “The relationship between rider and horse is as close a bond as man can have with an animal. It’s as if they are one person.
“There is a huge amount of trust and respect between the riders and their horses.”
Nicki, who rose to fame as a judge on Popstars and Pop Idol after spending years in the music industry, remembers when she saw the Spanish Riding School perform when she was a child.
“I was only little, but can remember the impact they made on me to this day,” she recalls. “I thought the horses were magical and could practically fly.”
And now hosting the show is a “dream job”, she says.
Nicki was lucky enough to host the School’s performances last year, when it staged shows to packed crowds in London, and formed a close bond with the stallions herself.
“Every night, after the show, I’d walk about the temporary stables saying goodnight to the horses,” she laughs.
Nicki, aged 45, admits she was “obsessed” with horses as a child and began riding at the age of five.
“When I was at school all I would read were books about horses, horse adventures and horse maintenance,” she remembers.
“One of my teachers even complained to my mum about my reading matter. My mother told her it was good I was so passionate about something!”
Even now, two of her most treasure possessions are the rosettes she won when she took part in her only competition.
She took up riding again ten years ago as a hobby and immediately fell back in love with horses.
“It’s a form of escapism, seeing the countryside at its best and having a relationship with a very intelligent animal,” says Nicki.
It’s also great exercise: “It keeps your thighs and bottom working, and you find muscles on your arms you didn’t know you had. As for your core – boy, riding works that part of you,” she laughs.
Apart from hosting the show, Nicki says she is looking forward to working with Carl and Lee.
“They will, no doubt, put on an amazing demonstration and will open the show with a bang.”
The Spanish Riding School of Vienna performs at the NIA on November 16-18, 2012. Tickets cost between £25 and £65. For details, telephone 0844 338 8000 or visit www.thenia.co.uk.